UPS begins testing emergency drone deliveries with CyPhy

Drones might one day blanket cities dropping off Amazon goods, but in the short-term, there’s plenty of opportunity for them to help out in limited engagements, where delivery via other means would be difficult, impossible or just not quite expedient enough. UPS kicked off trials of deliveries of that kind this week, with a pilot flight to drop a small package (containing a “mock” asthma inhaler) to a summer camp located on an island in the Atlantic.

The 3-mile journey took about 8 minutes, using a drone branded with UPS badging and colors, and supplied by CyPhy Works, a Massachusetts-based drone company that supplies both the hardware and software for drone operations. UPS is also an investor in CyPhy, participating in a $22 million round the company raised last October.

Technically, the pilot voyage of this drone doesn’t represent anything very challenging – even though the PARC (Persistent Aerial Reconnaissance and Communications) unit supplied by CyPhy flew itself, autonomous short-duration runs are pretty standard fare as far as drone operation goes. The real advancement here is that even this test flight wasn’t really possible as executed prior to the issuance of new rules by the FAA around commercial drone use.

Proof-of-concept and trials like this one are also requisite steps in getting to a point where UPS is actually using this tech live in the field where it could genuinely help. The scenario here was that a child on the island attending the camp needed an asthma inhaler delivered quickly, and since the island is unreachable by car, and any human-driven air or water delivery would potentially take too long. Having a working service you can actually deploy in those scenarios would be significant, even if this trial is just an early step to achieving that.