UPS starts drone deliveries of medical supplies to North Carolina hopsital campus
Logistics company UPS has completed the first commercial drone-based deliveries of medical samples to a private hospital and campus in Raleigh, in North Carolina. The flights have been green-lighted by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT).
UPS is working with drone delivery platform company Matternet. The pair have been commissioned by private healthcare operator WakeMed Health & Hospitals. They have made drone deliveries already between WakeMed’s hospital and campus in Raleigh, and will extend the service to “numerous planned daily revenue flights” at the WakeMed campus.
Matternet’s M2 quadcopter can carry 5lb payloads up to 12.5 miles.
UPS claimed the arrangement marked a “major milestone for unmanned aviation” in the US. As it stands, most WakeMed samples and specimens are transported by courier cars. On-demand drones can avoid road delays, lower costs, and improve the patient experience, it said.
NCDOT wants to use drones to expand healthcare access for local residents. It facilitated first-round test flights using Matternet’s drone technology on WakeMed’s campus in August 2018, as part of the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program (IPP).
Matternet was the first company to be authorised for full operations of drone logistics networks over densely-populated areas in Switzerland. It has a partnership with Boeing to develop transportation solutions.
The three-year FAA initiative aims to test practical applications of drones by partnering local governments with private sector companies. The five IPP partners involved are the FAA, NCDOT, UPS, Matternet, and WakeMed.
The WakeMed programme will see medical assets loaded into secure drone containers and flown along a predetermined flight paths, monitored by a ‘remote pilot-in-command’ (RPIC), to a fixed landing pad at WakeMed’s main hospital. Findings from the work will inform how drones can be applied more widely in the US.
Chris Cassidy, president of global healthcare and life sciences strategy at UPS, said: “Using drones to bring blood and other diagnostic specimens from medical facilities to central labs will imporve transport efficiencies like never before. And with fewer vehicles on the road, we’ll generate less environmental impact.”
Bala Ganesh, vice presdent of advanced technology at UPS, commented: “Unmanned aerial systems could better serve customer needs and provide opportunities for network improvements that generate efficiencies and enable us to grow our business.”