Delivery giant UPS and drone manufacturer CyPhy Works have started testing a CyPhy hexacopter to deliver packages to remote locations. On September 22, the companies conducted a mock delivery of urgently needed medicine from Beverly, Mass., to Children’s Island, three miles off the Massachusetts coast.
UPS is not new to the drone industry; the Atlanta-based logistics concern acknowledged last year that it was testing drones to monitor stock in its warehouse facilities. That testing is being done at warehouses in Louisville, Ky., and Venlo, the Netherlands. More recently, Houston Mills, UPS Airlines' director of safety, was named to the FAA’s high-level Drone Advisory Committee, which held its first public meeting on September 16.
Last year, UPS also participated in a multi-state study of using drones for humanitarian missions that was conducted by drone services company Measure on behalf of the American Red Cross. Next month, it will begin flying medical supplies by drone in Rwanda in a partnership with drone company Zipline and Gavi The Vaccine Alliance. Zipline produces a small fixed-wing drone that launches by rail, drops medical supplies by parachute and returns to its base.
In October 2015, the UPS Strategic Enterprise Fund joined other partners to invest $22 million in CyPhy Works, a small company based in Danvers, Mass. Helen Greiner, an MIT-trained roboticist who earlier co-founded “Roomba” manufacturer iRobot, started CyPhy Works in 2008.
Testers deployed the CyPhy Works’ Persistent Aerial Reconnaissance and Communications (PARC) hexacopter to deliver an asthma inhaler to a YMCA camp on the island, which cannot be reached by automobile. They flew the PARC on battery power; it can also operate for days at a time when connected to a powered tether.
“Our focus is on real-world applications that benefit our customers,” said Mark Wallace, UPS senior vice president of global engineering and sustainability. “We think drones offer a great solution to deliver to hard-to-reach locations in urgent situations where other modes of transportation are not readily available.”
Greiner, now CyPhy Works’ chief technology officer, said: “We’re thrilled to partner with UPS in this endeavor. Drone technology used in this way can save lives and deliver products and services to places that are difficult to reach by traditional transit infrastructures.”
Separate from the UPS testing, the “X” research laboratory formerly known as Google[x] is testing food deliveries by drone at Virginia Tech university in Blacksburg, Va. Those tests, conducted with the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership, are using a prototype of the vertical takeoff and landing Project Wing fixed-wing drone.