UPS is teaming up with autonomous delivery drone startup Matternet to experiment with using drones to deliver medical supplies, the companies announced on Tuesday. Starting today, the supplies will be delivered via Matternet's M2 quadcopters to WakeMed hospital in Raleigh, North Carolina. The drone delivery program will be overseen by the Federal Aviation Administration and the North Carolina Department of Transportation. It will be small at first: Matternet's drones can only carry payloads of up to five pounds over distances of up to 12.5 miles. Here's how the companies describe the delivery program: 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.
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.
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."
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.
The package company and its partner, CVS, have completed the first commercial medical drone delivery in the US. Using a M2 drone, the prescriptions were lowered down to two separate destinations via a cable while the unmanned aerial vehicle hovered 20 feet above each home. UPS and CVS, have completed the first commercial medical drone delivery in the US. The milestone is a result of UPS becoming the first drone delivery service to receive full approval from the Federal Aviation Administration. UPS and CVS carried out two flights on Friday, November 1st – both dropped off prescriptions to paying customers in Cary, North Carolina.