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Ups and Downs of UPS Drone Exploration

January 10, 2018

Down: Package Delivery


The idea of a flying robot visiting your front porch to hand you a gift has really caught the imagination of Americans.  It’s analogous to technological feats like attending distant meetings via hologram or having all human knowledge instantly available on your glasses.  But sometimes, these better-living-through- technology visions get deferred.


While a lot of the hype about drone package delivery has targeted, predictably, Amazon, the venerable delivery company UPS kicked off 2017 with big ideas about the idea.  February and March saw a fair amount of press coverage for UPS’s campaign to deliver packages via drone.


It was and is an interesting concept.  Rather than replacing drivers with drones, the delivery company has sought to pair the two.  When a UPS driver has a single delivery way out in the hinterlands, or on an impassable road, he or she can deploy the drone from the roof of the UPS truck.  It’s a compelling image, and a great integration of traditional employee and newer tech.


However, when Techcrunch went out to profile UPS and its new methodology, the delivery service suffered a setback: the drone crashed.  Into the UPS truck.  The small PR black eye wasn’t probably near the issue as were the technical difficulties.  Without working for UPS, it’s hard to know what they have up their brown sleeves, but we’re not seeing any press releases relating to package delivery.  

So far, this has evaded Amazon, it has evaded everyone.  UPS deserves credit for its continued research and development.


Up: Humanitarian Efforts in Rwanda


One of the things we like to explore is just how versatile drones are and how they can be applied in ways some people wouldn’t have imagined.  Well, UPS gives us a great example of that.  While working out the kinks of it home delivery, UPS didn’t pout, but instead put its mind to humanitarian efforts.


The company set up what it’s calling a public-private partnership with the drone company Zipline and with and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.  Together, these entities are delivering blood to unreachable rural areas in Rwanda.
Rwanda is a verdant country with wonderful vegetation but not a lot of infrastructure in terms of paved roads.  During the rainy season, the dirt roads become treacherous. UPS awarded a grant, which facilitates the work of Zipline, delivering blood to transfusion stations in the Western part of Rwanda.  

Millions of deaths occur each year in Rwanda due to the inability to deliver blood transfusions.  The efforts of these organizations should change this for the better.
On the back of that success, UPS is now forging similar partnerships in the US.  UPS is now working with Red Cross and CyPhy to deliver better responses to natural disasters.



A key driver is CyPhy’s Persistent Aerial Reconnaissance and Communications system, which is designed to take images of large areas that have been struck by hurricanes or floods or other disasters, to determine which buildings have been damaged.
UPS does not manufacture drones. It does not design them, nor use one particular model in each of its partnerships. Instead, it understands their benefits, and is ready to orient its work around deploying proper technologies when appropriate.