UPS Desperately Wants to Do Drone Delivery [Marketing]

With many of its competitors throwing their drones in the ring, UPS has now decided to see what all the fuss is about. After all, the [marketing] strategy has won lots of headlines for other delivery companies.

Today, the package delivery company announced that it has partnered with drone-maker CyPhy Works to begin testing delivery via drone. The first trial run—a mock delivery in which a drone successfully flew an inhaler from Beverly, Massachusetts to the nearby Children’s Island—happened yesterday. The drone flew about three miles in eight minutes, according to CyPhy Works chief technology officer Helen Grenier.

Image: UPS
Image: UPS

According to UPS, the primary purpose of its delivery drones won’t necessarily be to deliver normal, everyday packages, but rather those in “remote or difficult-to-access locations.” The company has also said that it one day wants to use the gadgets for emergency deliveries, according to Reuters. Back in May, it partnered with Zipline and Gavi, a global health organization, to deliver medicine in Rwanda using drones, and USA Today reports that it’s also testing drones in warehouses.

This strategy, if it continues, is surely an effort to differentiate UPS from competitors like Amazon, FedEx, and Walmart, which appear to be taking a more consumer-facing approach to drone delivery—in other words, they want to get socks and toothpaste to your doorstep, not emergency medical supplies. (Though Walmart, at least, has reportedly looked into using drones in its warehouses, too.)

But before any of that can happen, the Federal Aviation Administration must first open up the gates for commercial drone delivery—which it’s been loathe to do. In June, after the agency laid out the rules for Part 107, its commercial drone regulations, FAA spokesman Les Dorr told Gizmodo that drone delivery “is still a ways off.”


UPS is evidently hoping this will change. From its press release (emphasis ours):

Last month, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), issued new rules that expanded the uses of drones in commercial applications. Operators must adhere to important safety regulations. UPS believes these new rules are a step in the right direction. With the recent appointment of Captain Houston Mills, UPS Airlines’ director of safety, to the FAA’s new drone advisory committee, UPS intends to keep working closely with regulators to stay on the right path.


You can watch a video of the UPS drone in action here.


[UPS via]

Sophie is a former news editor at Gizmodo.

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Just to be clear, the Part 107 drone regulations mentioned specifically apply to any drones used in commercial operations. Presently each drone must be operated by a single pilot, and that pilot must maintain a visual line of sight with the drone (not with a scope or other aids). Further, you can’t operate a drone from a moving vehicle, or over people, without special waivers.

Essentially, this means to operate a drone delivery service, for each drone would need to be flown by a licensed operator that travels with the drone from end to end of the delivery path, potentially walking. More costly and more people needed than a UPS truck. Under current rules, this just won’t happen. The rules likely will change, but as of now, it’s a no-go.