UPS has become the first drone delivery service to receive full approval from the Federal Aviation Administration. The company's program, called Flight Forward, is operated in partnership with Matternet, which provides drone logistics networking company in Mountain View, California. Previously, UPS's pilots were only allowed to fly the drones within line of sight, but the FAA approval means they'll be able to significantly expand their delivery range. 'This is history in the making, and we aren't done yet,' said David Abney, UPS chief executive officer in a statement. UPS's Flight Forward drone delivery program is the first to earn full approval by the FAA (pictured one of the drones they will use in the program) The program's currently deployed in Raleigh, North Carolina, where UPS's drones have made more than 1,000 flights carrying deliveries around the WakeMed Health & Hospitals campus.
If you're inclined to puns, you might say medical samples are the lifeblood of hospital systems. But if you actually work with them, you know they're more of a headache. Because the same road traffic that keeps you from getting home keeps the couriers charged with moving these tissue and blood samples, collected by the millions daily and often in urgent need of analysis, from completing their missions. So it makes a lot of sense that when the FAA decided to sanction the first revenue-generating drone delivery scheme in the US, it went with one that promises to speed up that process, run by UPS and autonomous drone technology firm Matternet. It makes sense from the tech perspective, too: The cargo is extremely lightweight and compact, allowing the companies involved to focus on the delivery processes and mechanisms rather than trying to manage unwieldy payloads.
Autonomous delivery drone networks are coming to the US in earnest. UPS and Matternet are launching a drone "airline" that will use the robotic aircraft to carry medical samples between WakeMed's health care facilities in Raleigh, North Carolina. The drone of choice (an M2 quadcopter) can only carry up to 5lbs at distances as long as 12.5 miles, but it should still be faster, cheaper and more consistent than the current system of driving samples across town using cars. They won't have to deal with traffic snarls, after all. This isn't the flexible drone delivery service you might have imagined.
Matternet CEO Andreas Raptopoulos walks next to an operator carrying a drone used to deliver medical specimens after a flight in March at WakeMed Hospital in Raleigh, N.C. Matternet CEO Andreas Raptopoulos walks next to an operator carrying a drone used to deliver medical specimens after a flight in March at WakeMed Hospital in Raleigh, N.C. Underneath it is a metal box -- smaller than a shoebox -- with vials of blood samples inside of it that are now heading across the campus to the lab for analysis, guided by a drone operator on the ground. "This facility happens to be across a very busy road from our main campus hospital," says Stuart Ginn, an ENT surgeon and medical director of innovations at WakeMed. But when taken by carrier on foot or by car, he says "the logistics of getting those samples across often resulted in about a 45-minute time of delivery."
UPS will leverage drones to deliver medical samples in the first FAA-backed and continuous commercial deployment of drone technology in America. According to UPS, an autonomous drone -- Matternet's M2 quadcopter -- will travel between locations at WakeMed's campus in Raleigh, North Carolina, flying distances of up to 12.8 miles along a fixed, pre-determined route. Currently, the samples are delivered on the ground via courier cars, says UPS, making the shipments susceptible to road traffic. The use of drones will both increase efficiency and lower costs, the company says. Samples are loaded onto the drone which then flies a predetermined route to a landing pad located within the hospital.