US Companies Set to Have Drones Transport Food, Medicines

    30 October, 2019

    People in some parts of the United States could soon have medications and other products flown directly to their homes.

    CVS Health Corporation is partnering with international shipping company UPS to set up a product delivery service for CVS customers. The service will involve drone aircraft.

    The two companies announced plans to develop and test the system last week.

    The service is expected to begin tests in one or two U.S. cities in the coming weeks, Reuters news agency reported. UPS said the program would involve direct drone deliveries of prescription drugs and other products to homes of CVS customers.

    The new partnership marks the latest expansion of the UPS drone company Flight Forward. Flight Forward has been operating about 10 drone flights a day to deliver medical materials on the grounds of WakeMed Hospital in Raleigh, North Carolina. Some of the flights involved emergency blood supplies.

    In this file photo, a UPS drone makes a Flight Forward medical delivery on WakeMed Health & Hospitals' main campus in Raleigh, North Carolina, in an undated photo.
    In this file photo, a UPS drone makes a Flight Forward medical delivery on WakeMed Health & Hospitals' main campus in Raleigh, North Carolina, in an undated photo.

    This month, Flight Forward received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, FAA, to operate as the first U.S. "air carrier" with drone delivery services. After the approval, UPS announced plans to expand Flight Forward's drone deliveries from healthcare to other industries.

    Other businesses that have sought FAA approval for drove delivery services include online seller Amazon and Google's parent company Alphabet.

    Alphabet's drone company Wing received federal approval earlier this year to fly delivery drones. Last week, Wing announced it had launched a test program that delivers non-prescription medications and other products to people in a Virginia town.

    Wing's project is a partnership with international shipper FedEx and Walgreens Boots Alliance, the owner of Walgreens drugstores. Walgreens customers in the town can order from a list of more than 100 products and get them delivered to their home by drone.

    The first test flights involved drones that flew about seven kilometers from a Wing storage center to nearby houses. Each aircraft is able to travel as far as 19 kilometers on a single flight. The company says it plans to expand travel distances in the future.

    In January, the FAA proposed rules that would permit drones to operate over populated areas. But final federal rules for drone use are not expected to be finalized until at least 2021.

    Another company that has been testing drone deliveries is Uber. The ride-sharing company has experimented with food deliveries for its online food ordering business Uber Eats.

    Uber received permission from the FAA last year to test food deliveries by air in San Diego, California. The company said the first tests involved food orders from McDonald's restaurants.

    During testing, food orders are sent through the Uber Eats app to one of the restaurants. Workers load the food into a box, which is connected to the delivery aircraft. The drone is then programmed to fly to a special landing area. From there, an Uber worker takes the box and completes the rest of the trip on the ground.

    In the future, the company plans to land drones on top of parked vehicles that Uber drivers would then use to deliver the food to customers. The company is planning also to use self-driving cars to support its future drone delivery services.

    Luke Fischer is head of Uber Elevate, which is developing the service's flight operations. He says the company is still experimenting with possible methods that would permit the drone to complete the whole delivery by itself.

    These could involve drone landings on specially-designed mailboxes or use of parachutes to drop products close to customers' homes. But Fischer said these methods would be difficult in most big city environments.

    It is not known when Uber will receive permission to expand its testing and delivery services to other parts of the country. But this week, the company released a photo of a newly-designed Uber Eats delivery drone. The company says it expects the new aircraft to take flight before the end of the year.

    I'm Bryan Lynn.

    Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from Reuters, the Associated Press, UPS and online sources. George Grow was the editor.

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    Words in This Story

    delivery n. the act of taking goods to a person or place

    customern. a person who buys goods or services from a business

    drone n. an unmanned aircraft guided by computers or human operators from a distance

    prescription n. an order written by a doctor that says a patient can be given a medicine or treatment

    app n. a program for a smartphone or other electronic device that performs a special operation

    park v. to bring a vehicle to a halt and leave it

    photon. short for photograph; an image or picture