UPS has begun a groundbreaking new logistics program using unmanned drones to deliver medical samples at a North Carolina hospital.
It’s the first FAA-sanctioned use of a drone for routine revenue flights transporting products under a contractual delivery agreement.
The drones will replace courier cars and provide on-demand and same-day delivery, the ability to avoid roadway delays, increase medical delivery efficiency, lower costs, and improve the patient experience with potentially life-saving benefits. Using Matternet’s M2 quadcopter, powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, the drones can carry medical payloads weighing up to about five lbs. over distances of up to 12.5 miles.
Throughout the WakeMed program, a medical professional will load a secure drone container with a medical sample or specimen – such as a blood sample – at one of WakeMed’s nearby facilities. The drone will fly along a predetermined flight path, monitored by a specially trained Remote Pilot-in-Command (RPIC), to a fixed landing pad at WakeMed’s main hospital and central pathology lab. This will be an ongoing program at WakeMed, and UPS and Matternet will use the learnings to consider how drones can be applied to improve transport services at other hospitals and medical facilities across the U.S.
“This opens the door for UPS and Matternet to serve the life science sector in a more robust way as logistics demands shift,” said Chris Cassidy, president of UPS Global Healthcare and Life Science Logistics.
NCDOT, which is working to leverage drones to expand healthcare access for the residents of North Carolina, supported Matternet in conducting 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).
UPS had partnered with GAVI and Zipline in 2016 to deliver blood products to remote locations in Rwanda, while the Matternet team has already completed more than 3,000 flights for healthcare systems in Switzerland.