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College student $350K drone: Oops, college kid mistakenly delivered $350K drone

A drone delivery blunder put this $350K machine into the hands of a frat boy.
A drone delivery blunder put this $350K machine into the hands of a frat boy.
Reddit User Seventy_Seven

A college student checking his mail received an eye-opener of a package – a drone worth $350K from the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration. Accidentally delivered by UPS – or in this case the phonetic pronunciation “oops” may apply – the drone originated from MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla. and arrived with a note that read: “USA Federal Property Return to: NOAA Aircraft Operations Center,” shares the Washington Times on May 6.

Oh the things that a college kid could do with a drone. Air-delivery of brewskies to second floor door rooms, ogling the ladies with a video camera attached to the drone’s nose. Or perhaps our unnamed college boy has bigger and more capitalist aspirations – to list the drone on Ebay to the highest bidder. How about $300,000 or best offer?

Incredibly, when the student contacted UPS, he reports they told him to “keep it.” As per the student’s Reddit post, under his user name Seventy_Seven: “Just called UPS. They told me that it was one of the undelivered packages in their office, and asked if I've ever had an undelivered package. I said no, but he insisted that it was mine, and said that it was up to me if I want to keep it or not.”

It’s unclear to all involved how the environment and wildlife monitoring drone ended up in the hands of the student. Redditers promptly posted their humorous takes on the mis-delivered drone. “This is part of a money saving change to the drone program; they found out it's cheaper to mail them to the target than have the drone fly there,” said one user's well-liked comment.

The student posted an update yesterday: “For all of those saying things along the lines of ‘It's a federal offense to open someone else's mail,’ I should mention that the label on the exterior was addressed to me. Nothing on the outside of the crate said it was government property. I had ordered a weightlifting bench and this came with it. Both boxes had UPS labels with my name and address. Though an odd box, I genuinely thought it was parts for the bench I ordered, since I wasn't expecting a freaking drone.”

A photo of the package and its contents was eventually posted online. What was in the package was not the entire drone assembly, but rather what turned out to be the wings and control panel to a NOAA Puma, a drone used by the agency to measure ocean debris and conduct seabird surveys.

The student, who did not indicate what college he attends, said he attempted to reach the NOAA yesterday, but was redirected to a voice mail. After his story went viral, the student said he received a swarm of responses from people saying they were from UPS and the NOAA and wanted the drone back.

“I’m getting a swarm of messages from people who claim they are in the industry, work at UPS, work for the NOAA, etc, but I don’t think I can trust any of these random contacts,” the student wrote in his post. "I’ll be waiting on a response tomorrow, unless someone has irrefutable proof that they somehow have a connection that can get me to someone who matters on this issue."

Later, he amusingly added: “I’m still alive and well, and if you haven’t read already, it’s not military,” he wrote. “Regardless, it’s not mine, and I’ll be sending it to its owner unless I’m told to keep it… Here’s hoping I survive until tomorrow.”

David Miller, a spokesperson for NOAA, said he is unsure how the parts ended up in the hands of a kid. Miller said his agency is working to discern how the accident happened., and to get the drone returned.

“We sent one of our Puma unmanned aircraft systems to Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary in Massachusetts,”Miller said. “We sent a set of about eight boxes for this one aircraft system, and one was misdelivered by UPS. We’re working with UPS to find it.” Miller also disputes that the label was addressed to the student, or the school. “I can tell you that it didn’t come from us addressed to him,” he said.