Photo Credit: Wix Stock Library
Drone delivery has been a long sought-after convenience. From packages to food, consumers have been expecting drones to be integrated into the delivery business for a while. UPS, a company that is practically synonymous with package delivery, has managed to become the first company to successfully complete a delivery via drone in the United States. This is a groundbreaking accomplishment that was stalled for others due to technical issues and government restrictions. Here’s how UPS was able to become the first company to successfully complete a commercial drone delivery.
Photo Credit: UPS
To start, UAS such as drones, UAVs, and other remote aerial vehicles fall under the jurisdiction of the FAA (the Federal Aviation Administration). The regulations that package delivery follow fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The FAA’s restrictions regarding how and where pilots can fly drones have been an obstacle for businesses seeking to utilize the convenience of drones to deliver products.
That was until the FAA initiated the Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program in 2017. The FAA describes the program as follows: “... the Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Integration Pilot Program (IPP) has brought state, local, and tribal governments together with private sector entities, such as UAS operators or manufacturers, to accelerate safe drone integration.” They are operating with the goal of reconciling safety concerns and fields that would benefit from drone integration like businesses, emergency management, and inspections.
Lead participants of the IPP include Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma (Durant, OK), City of San Diego (CA), Innovation and Entrepreneurship Investment Authority (Herndon, VA), and several other groups. Out of the 149 proposals received, these 10 were chosen to move forward in testing out their Ideas. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao is quoted as saying that “Data gathered from these pilot projects will form the basis of a new regulatory framework to safely integrate drones into our national airspace.”
Among these 10 participants is the North Carolina Department of Transportation (Raleigh, NC), which brings us back to UPS. NCDOT’s proposal was based on creating drone delivery stations. The proposal tackles safety issues such as operating over human beings, beyond visual line of sight, and at night by using ADS-B, detect and avoid technologies, UTM and radar technologies.
Previously, UPS had already been experimenting with delivery applications for drones. At one point, UPS was working with CyPhy Works, a drone manufacturer that makes a battery-powered drone with night vision. Together, UPS and CyPhy successfully delivered asthma medicine from Beverly, Massachusetts a camp on Children's Island. In Rwanda, UPS worked with a drone manufacturer called Zipline to deliver medical supplies to remote regions of the country.
Photo Credit: Matternet
Now, with the support of the FAA and the state of North Carolina, UPS can further develop its drone delivery methods. This support system is what eventually led to the groundbreaking delivery made on March 26th, 2019. Along with NCDOT, UPS also collaborated with drone manufacturer Matternet to operate the delivery of medical supplies to the WakeMed lab in Raleigh. Using the Matternet M2 quadcopter, which has a payload of up to five pounds and speed of up to 43 mph, UPS aims to use these deliveries to gather data for improving the delivery of healthcare products.
I am a writer and an artist based in Georgia. Specializing in illustration, graphic design, and video art, I love to explore the new ways technology intersects with art. I think drones have done amazing things for photography and video art, making what would previously be costly and difficult more accessible. As a complete novice, it was only recently that I saw what independent artists could do with their drones, and I continue to be impressed by the sights that drones are able to explore and the images they can capture. Instagram: @tyesha.ferron