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Drug chains, hospitals take to the skies for drone medical deliveries

Matthew McNulty

UPS is best known for its big brown trucks but is now looking to gain a reputation for high in the sky drug delivery systems.

Early Monday, UPS announced a deal with Kaiser Permanente for its drone system -- UPS Flight Forward™ -- to develop the transport of healthcare supplies between buildings at Kaiser Permanente medical campuses in its 39-hospital network. It will run a similar program on the University of Utah Health hospital campuses as well as North Carolina's WakeMed Hospital. Later in the day, Reuters reported a home drug delivery program for UPS Flight Forward™ with drug store chain CVS.

The UPS agreements came as CVS' drug store rival Walgreens unveiled its "drugs by drone" plan. The pharmacy chain developed a pilot program in Christiansburg, Virginia with Wing, a subsidiary of Google parent company Alphabet for the program.

"Wing's collaborators on this service — FedEx Express, Walgreens, and local Virginia retailer Sugar Magnolia — are the first businesses in the United States to offer this form of local air delivery to customers," according to the Wing website.

Clearly, both CVS and Walgreens have high expectations for the potential of drone deliveries. So too does Kaiser Permanente. “We move millions of supplies and equipment in and around our 7.5 million square feet of medical space and to the homes of our 12.4 million members,” Kaiser Permanente Chairman and CEO Bernard J. Tyson said in a statement, "This drone project will allow us to think into the future about additional possibilities of perfecting logistics and meeting the ever-growing demands on our enterprise.”

UPS was granted permission in September by the FAA to operate commercial drone flights through its new business unit, UPS Flight Forward, Inc.

In a release, Walgreen's said that Christiansburg was chosen for the pilot program because "Wing has been working closely with nearby Virginia Tech in Blacksburg to test drone delivery as part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Integration Pilot Program since 2016."

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