UPS said Tuesday it began using unmanned drones to transport medical samples at a North Carolina hospital system, part of its longer-term plan to incorporate drones into its delivery of supplies and samples to medical facilities.
The logistics and delivery giant is partnering with Matternet, a drone-logistics startup, to shuttle medical samples among scattered facilities at WakeMed. The 941-bed hospital system includes three full-service hospitals and other facilities in North Carolina’s Triangle area.
“Currently, the majority of medical samples and specimens are transported across WakeMed’s expanding health system by courier cars,” UPS said in a statement. “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.”
The drone deliveries that began Tuesday are part of a pilot program that the Federal Aviation Administration launched last August to test practical applications of drones and analyze how they could be used safely to speed deliveries and reduce costs. UPS and Matternet are also working with North Carolina’s Department of Transportation to conduct the drone flights.
“Today’s flight marks the beginning of numerous planned daily revenue flights at the WakeMed Raleigh campus,” UPS said.
During the program, WakeMed medical workers will load drones with medical specimens such as a blood sample and send it flying along predetermined flight paths to WakeMed’s central pathology labs, all while monitored by remote drone pilots. Data from those flights will help the companies work on similar drone logistics projects at other hospitals.
UPS has previously partnered with Zipline to deliver blood products to remote locations in Rwanda. Matternet has built an autonomous drone network in Switzerland that delivered blood tests and other samples between medical facilities there.