UPS Tests Delivery-by-Drone in Massachusetts

The company teamed up with Danvers-based CyPhy Works to drop off an inhaler at Children's Island.

ups drone 1

photo via UPS

For the delivery industry, which has seen overhauls that include vast storehouses for same-day drop-offs and a rapidly growing challenge to the traditional retail stores, are drones really the future?

A North Shore robotics company just offered what may be another proof-of-concept for the idea.

Danvers-based CyPhy Works, teaming up with UPS, set up a test-run delivery of a child’s inhaler from Beverly to the hard-to-reach Children’s Island using the technology. The flight traveled three miles to drop off the package in an area where typical UPS drivers couldn’t get to on their own, the two companies announced Friday.

“Drones aren’t going to take the place of all delivery, but there are places where you have inaccessible location, an emergency situation where the infrastructure is down, you want or need the package quickly—these are the areas where drones will be the best way to get a package to a location,’’ CyPhy Works head Helen Greiner tells the Globe.

Autonomous drones, like driverless cars, have a bit of a challenging relationship with regulators. For the cars, it’s not clear yet how law enforcement might interpret current traffic rules if and when they hit the streets. A new initiative to test them in Boston will be among many efforts to prepare for robot-enabled travel. For drones, restrictions are being cobbled together that ban use near airports (with some exceptions), and are full of obstacles, for example new rules from the FAA that ban their use without a pilot standing guard nearby.

So there will likely need to be many more demonstrations of how the technology could be put to use before the law catches up with it—especially considering drones could be big business in a region known for its flair for robots—and Boston sees miniature helicopters delivering packages from the sky.