Drones, autonomous driving and more: UPS's new modernization initiatives

UPS on Wednesday announced a series of new initiatives and partnerships, all aimed at upgrading its global logistics network

UPS on Wednesday announced a series of new initiatives, partnerships and products, all aimed at upgrading its global logistics network. A few of the announcements were focused specifically on modernizing its delivery fleet, with autonomous vehicles and electric vehicles. 

First, UPS announced a new partnership with the self-driving car company Waymo. The companies are jointly launching a pilot program to test autonomous vehicle package pickup in the Phoenix, Ariz. area. 

Starting in the coming weeks, Waymo's Chrysler Pacifica minivans will deliver packages from UPS Store locations to a local UPS sorting facility. The minivans will drive autonomously with a Waymo-trained driver on board to monitor operations.

While this is just a pilot, the companies aim to develop a long-term partnership plan. 

Meanwhile, UPS's venture capital arm, UPS Ventures, is investing in Arrival, which makes electric vehicle platforms and purpose-built vehicles. UPS also plans to purchase 10,000 electric vehicles from the company and collaborate with it to develop electric vehicles with Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems (ADAS). 

UPS is also expanding its drone operations in the healthcare sector, a key business vertical for UPS. 

First, the logistics company announced an initiative to test drone delivery use cases with Henry Schein, a worldwide distributor of medical and dental supplies. They'll focus on testing the delivery of essential healthcare products to destinations where traditional road transport may be less effective or timely, such as remote communities or areas impacted by a natural disaster.

Last year, UPS formed a subsidiary drone business, UPS Flight Forward. It received a highly-restricted air carrier certification from the Federal Aviation Administration, allowing for approved UPS drones to fly over people, at night and out of the operator's line of sight. After granting UPS Flight Forward the special certification, the FAA authorized the company to operate a drone delivery program at WakeMed Hospital in Raleigh, N.C.

UPS announced Wednesday that it's expanding its UPS Flight Forward service to the University of California at San Diego Health. Launching in February in partnership with Matternet, the drone program will be used to transport of various medical products between health centers and labs. Per FAA rules, the drones will follow predetermined flight paths within visual line of sight.

More from UPS: 

  • The logistics company plans to add 5 million square feet of new automated sortation capacity to its facilities this year, starting with new facilities in Pennsylvania. UPS is more than halfway through a three-year plan to add more automation to its facilities, with the goal to drive 30 percent to 35 percent improved productivity when compared to manual processing in older sites. By the end of 2021, nearly 100 percent of eligible packages will be sorted with automated technologies. 
  • UPS announced the next generation of its On-Road Integrated Optimization and Navigation (ORION) platform. The latest version includes Dynamic Optimization, which recalculates individual package delivery routes throughout the day to account for traffic conditions, as well as changing pickup commitments and delivery orders.
  • UPS announced that Square is joining its Digital Access Program, giving merchants working with Square in-platform access to UPS services. The program provides access to a suite of UPS services to more easily fulfill e-commerce orders and manage shipping.   

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