United Parcel Service Inc. and a startup drone partner began the first continuing commercial drone deliveries in the USA, making a short flight carrying a medical sample between North Carolina hospitals on Tuesday.
It is an expansion of a test initiative that began in August and is supervised by North Carolina's transportation department and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Calling the inaugural flight a major milestone for unmanned aviation in the United States UPS said, "It will provide "the ability to avoid roadway delays, increase medical delivery efficiency, lower costs and improve the patient experience with potentially life-saving benefits".
The drone features a "secure drone container" in which a medical professional loads a medical specimen or sample, which could include blood. Drones will subsequently fly across a fixed route to a landing pad at WakeMed's flagship hospital, where the specimen will be analyzed at the health system's central pathology lab.
With the FAA's full oversight, the first flight on Tuesday marked the beginning of numerous planned flights by UPS at the WakeMed Raleigh campus.
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Following test flights in August previous year, WakeMed ENT physician and medical director of WakeMed Innovations, Stuart Ginn, MD, said: "This powerful technology has the potential to achieve transformative improvements in health and healthcare delivery". UPS says the system is also better for the environment. It is monitored during its flight by a specially trained Remote Pilot-in-Command (RPIC).
The program will utilize Matternet's battery-powered "M2 quadcopter", which can carry medical payloads weighing up to about five pounds for up to 12.5 miles, UPS said.
"Together with UPS, we aim to shift the status quo for on-demand logistics for healthcare systems in the USA through drone delivery networks".
The company says they have plans to change the way medical deliveries are made across the world. The Matternet team has already completed more than 3,000 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. "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".