Pharmacy giant Walgreens is testing an on-demand drone delivery service with Alphabet's Wing Aviation beginning next month.
As the first pharmacy retailer to test drone delivery, Walgreens will use Wing's drones to deliver food and beverage products, over-the-counter medications and other health and wellness products to eligible residents of Christiansburg, Virginia. Prescription medications will not available through this service, the company said.
The companies will test the viability of health and wellness products and retail delivery through the air, offering home delivery minutes after customers place their orders via the Wing app.
Wing, a subsidiary of Google parent company Alphabet, was the first drone operator certified as an air carrier by the Federal Aviation Administration earlier this year.
Christiansburg was selected as the test market as Wing has been working closely with nearby Virginia Tech in Blacksburg to test drone delivery as part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program, the companies said.
“Walgreens continues to explore partnerships to transform and modernize our customer experience and we are proud to be the first retailer in the U.S. to offer an on-demand commercial drone delivery option with Wing,” Vish Sankaran, chief innovation officer, Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc., said in a statement.
“This is the kind of omnichannel partnership and offering that can redefine convenience for our customers and communities—delivering items to homes in minutes, not hours or days," Sankaran said.
Customers in the Christiansburg area will have access to more than 100 products and six “packs” via the Wing app. Customers can either choose the individual products they need or choose one of the pre-built packs in the following categories: allergy, baby, cough/cold, first aid, pain, and kids’ snacks.
Parents at home with a sick child can order the “baby pack” which includes products like children's ibuprofen and water, as one example, Walgreens said.
Wing also announced separate drone trials with FedEx and local Christiansburg retailer Sugar Magnolia.
The drone pilot project will demonstrate the benefits of drone delivery by improving access to health care products, creating new avenues of growth for local businesses, and exploring ways to enhance efficiency of last-mile delivery service, Wing said in a press release.
Walgreens is just one of the many retailers exploring the use of drones to offer customers faster and more convenient delivery service. In June, Amazon executives said its new delivery drone should be ready "within months," according to CNBC. CVS CEO Larry Merlo said in January the company was “doing some work” to distribute prescriptions by drone, Stat reported.
In March, UPS launched a drone delivery service for medical samples in partnership with WakeMed Health & Hospitals. The service enables medical professionals to secure drone containers with medical samples or specimens—such as a blood sample—at one of WakeMed’s Raleigh facilities. The drone flies along a predetermined flight path to a fixed landing pad at the main hospital and central pathology lab to be analyzed.
Northwell Health is exploring ways to combine telehealth with drone service to improve emergency care. The idea is to have a fleet of emergency drones that can quickly respond to an accident, an opioid overdose or even a terrorist attack, using telehealth to communicate with patients at the scene, Northwell Health said.