UPS, Matternet team up to ship medical samples via drones in North Carolina

UPS is offering a new service to deliver medical samples using unmanned drones through a collaboration with Matternet, a leader in autonomous drone technology

02 April 2019 - 19:00

UPS is offering a new service to deliver medical samples using unmanned drones through a collaboration with Matternet, a leader in autonomous drone technology.

The programme is taking place at WakeMed's flagship hospital and campus in the Raleigh, North Carolina metropolitan area, with oversight by the US Federal Aviation Administration and North Carolina Department of Transportation. The inaugural flight marks the start of a series of planned daily flights at the WakeMed Raleigh campus.

'UPS Healthcare and Life Sciences is excited to expand on our current lab specimen logistics portfolio to drive step change in today's delivery models,' said UPS president of global healthcare and life science strategy Chris Cassidy.

'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.'

The UPS and Matternet programme 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 traffic jams on the road networks, 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 F's Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Programme (IPP).

The three-year F programme 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 F, NCDOT, UPS, Matternet and WakeMed.

The programme will utilise Matternetss M2 quadcopter, which is powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery and can carry medical payloads weighing up to five pounds over distances of up to 12.5 miles.

'Together with UPS, we aim to shift the status quo for on-demand logistics for healthcare systems in the US through drone delivery networks,' said Matternet chief executive officer Andreas Raptopolous.

Throughout the WakeMed programme, 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 Remote Pilot-in-Command (RPIC), to a fixed landing pad at WakeMed's main hospital and central pathology lab.

This will be an ongoing programme 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 US.


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