UPS, Startup Begin First Regular Drone Deliveries in US

Desiree Burns
March 29, 2019

The service, sanctioned by the FAA, involves the contracted delivery of medical samples in unmanned drones at WakeMed's flagship hospital and campus in the Raleigh, North Carolina, metropolitan area.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the North Carolina Department of Transportation provided oversight. Then the drone will fly along a predetermined route to a fixed landing pad at WakeMed's main hospital and central pathology lab. UPS and Matternet will then analyze the program to help better determine drone use for improved deliveries at other hospitals throughout the country.

American delivery giant UPS on Tuesday launched the first authorized use of unmanned drones to transport packages to recipients.

Currently, the majority of medical samples and specimens are transported across WakeMed's expanding health system by courier cars.

UPS is conducting the service through a joint effort with Matternet, a Menlo Park, California-based start-up which provides autonomous drone technology.

The aim is to use drones for reducing costs and increase efficiency during transportation of essential medical supplies eventually.

"UPS Healthcare & Life Sciences is excited to expand on our current lab specimen logistics portfolio to drive step change in today's delivery models". It is monitored during its flight by a specially trained Remote Pilot-in-Command (RPIC).

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The "quadcopter" drones can carry medical payloads weight up to five pounds (2.3 kilograms) for distances up to 12.5 miles (20 kilometers).

UPS has expanded into healthcare logistics, and the company says it is making this sector a priority of its transformation strategy.

This collaboration is the latest UPS programme to utilise drone flights in support of healthcare logistics.

Companies ranging from Domino's to Amazon have made highly publicized pushes into drone delivery.

On the other hand, the Matternet team has also kept busy: the company completed over 3000 flights for healthcare systems in Switzerland.

"Our technology allows hospital systems to transport medical items at an unprecedented level of speed and predictability, resulting in improved patient care and operational savings", according to Matternet CEO Andreas Raptopoulos. UPS partnered with GAVI and Zipline in 2016 to deliver blood products to remote locations in Rwanda.

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