Atlanta-based package delivery company UPS has been stepping its feet in the drone industry for years. And now, it’s about to get a new fleet of package delivery drones, designed by German drone-maker Wingcopter.
UPS Flight Forward (UPSFF), the drone delivery arm of UPS, announced that it had selected Wingcopter as the creator of its “next generation of package delivery drones for a variety of use cases in the United States and internationally,” according to a news statement.
Wingcopter is known for making drones that can perform vertical takeoffs and landings in tight spaces (like a helicopter), and then transform into an aircraft capable of high-speed horizontal flight (like an airplane).
What are the next steps for UPSFF and Wingcopter?
Wincopter will need to earn regulatory certification for its unmanned aircraft to make commercial delivery flights in the United States.
If approved, UPSFF said it intends to go beyond deliveries in the healthcare and retail industries, and into solving “long-standing challenges for high-tech, industrial manufacturing, hospitality, entertainment and other customers.”
A history of UPS and package delivery drones
UPS has long been involved in the drone delivery game.
Their history in package delivery drones dates as far back as 2015, when they studied using drones for humanitarian disaster relief operations with the American Red Cross
Then in 2016, the UPS Foundation partnered with California-based drone startup Zipline to use drones to deliver blood for transfusions throughout Rwanda.
UPS has since created its UPSFF spinoff, which began operating commercial drone delivery flights in the UPS network in 2019, starting with delivery service at WakeMed’s flagship hospital and campus in Raleigh, N.C. to deliver thousands of medical samples via drones.
As part of that project, UPS received air carrier and operator certification from the Federal Aviation Administration, which is important because it enabled UPS Flight Forward to expand its medically-focused drone delivery services from solely WakeMed’s hospital campus in Raleigh, N.C. (which is one of the FAA’s test sites) to hospital campuses all around the country. UPS had been using drones built by delivery company Matternet, via their M2 quadcopter drone.
UPS Flight Forward says it “is building a network of technology partners,” so it’s possible that UPS will continue the Matternet partnership while adding others, like Wingcopter.
UPS Flight Forward has FAA Part 135 Standard certification, meaning its operators can now fly an unlimited number of drones with an unlimited number of remote operators in command. It can also fly drones with cargo exceeding 55 pounds and fly at night.
UPS is also working with CVS to study how it can deliver prescriptions and under CVS retail items to residential homes.
Everything you need to know about Wingcopter
If you’ve ever had a package delivered, you’ve heard of UPS. But it’s more likely you haven’t heard of Wingcopter.
Wingcopter’s electric-vertical-takeoff-and landing drone is different from many others because of its patented tilt-rotor mechanism, which enables the drone to transition from multicopter for hovering, into fixed-wing for low-noise forward flight. It can fly up to a range of 75 miles and in strong winds of up to 44 mph, and it also holds a Guinness World record in speed, flying 150 mph.
Wincopter’s drones have performed visual line of sight (BVLOS) flights for industries ranging from commercial, factory-to-factory deliveries to humanitarian projects and emergency medical supply.
Some of Wingcopter’s past projects have included:
- Bringing laboratory samples between the Merck plant in Gernsheim to the company’s headquarters in Darmstadt — a distance of over 25 kilometers, over highways and state roads, power and rail lines, and industrial infrastructure
- Delivering insulin to an Irish island in the North Sea that is frequently cut off from the mainland due to bad weather
- Setting up an on demand vaccine supply on behalf of the local Ministry of Health and supported by UNICEF on the South Sea island of Vanuatu
- Delivering 90 kg of medicines to remote areas partially cut off from a flood in Malawi
And if that’s not proof that the company has been on a tear recently, get this. In the wake of its Series A funding round, Wingcopter is on a huge hiring spree, with plans to grow from its current team of 45 employees to 70 within the next few months.