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UPS Drone Delivers Medicine Package to Island

United Parcel Service Inc. said Friday it successfully used a drone to deliver medicine to an island near Boston, jumping into a race with competitors such as Amazon.com Inc. to test drone delivery inside the U.S.

The delivery of an inhaler on Thursday was conducted in partnership with CyPhy Works, a drone maker in which UPS holds a stake. The delivery kicks off a wider test by UPS of using drones for commercial deliveries to remote or difficult-to-access areas.

UPS’s delivery marks the first major commercial delivery conducted via drone in the U.S. since the Federal Aviation Administration implemented long-awaited rules in late August authorizing businesses to start using small drones. The company previously has tested drone use for indoor warehouses and international disaster or human-aid relief, which aren’t subject to the same regulations. UPS is on the FAA’s drone advisory committee.

Traditional delivery companies generally have expressed more skepticism about the likelihood of package delivery via drones. “There are two enormous transportation networks that are built around moving light packages and freight, and they are FedEx and UPS,” FedEx Corp. Chief Executive Fred Smith said after Amazon’s 2013 announcement.  

UPS’s brown and white drone, which was emblazoned with its logo, took off from Beverly, Mass., carrying the 2-pound package. It flew 3 miles over water within line of sight to a nearby island, touching down in a patch of grass. The drone flew autonomously, without a human pilot, simulating an urgent medical delivery.

One incentive for UPS to invest in drone technology is that the company has higher labor costs than rival FedEx due to its unionized drivers, package sorters and other workers. Still, any wider scale use of unmanned technology to do those jobs likely would complicate the delivery giant’s relationship with the Teamsters labor union. -WSJ

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