Atlanta, GA — UPS announced a groundbreaking new logistics service to deliver medical samples via unmanned drones through a collaboration with Matternet, a leader in autonomous drone technology. The program is taking place at WakeMed’s flagship hospital and campus in the Raleigh, N.C., metropolitan area, with oversight by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT). The flight marks the beginning of numerous planned daily revenue flights at the WakeMed Raleigh campus.
The UPS and Matternet program represents a major milestone for unmanned aviation in the United States. Currently, the majority of medical samples and specimens are transported across WakeMed’s expanding health system by courier cars. The addition of drone transport provides an option for 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.
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). The three-year FAA program aims to test practical applications of drones by partnering local governments with private sector companies to learn more about how this emerging technology can be safely and usefully integrated into day-to-day activities. The five IPP partners involved are the FAA, NCDOT, UPS, Matternet, and WakeMed.
The program will utilize Matternet’s M2 quadcopter, which is powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, and can carry medical payloads weighing up to about 5 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.
“UPS Healthcare & Life Sciences is excited to expand on our current lab specimen logistics portfolio to drive step change in today’s delivery models,” said Chris Cassidy, UPS president of global healthcare & life sciences strategy. “Using drones to bring blood and other diagnostic specimens from medical facilities to central labs will improve transport efficiencies like never before. and with fewer vehicles on the road, we’ll generate less environmental impact.”
“Together with UPS, we aim to shift the status quo for on-demand logistics for healthcare systems in the U.S., through drone delivery networks,” said Andreas Raptopoulos, CEO, Matternet. “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. we are excited to work with our partners to breathe new life into healthcare logistics, and help establish a new layer of ultra-fast, predictable transportation.”