UPS is adding drone technology to its latest push into the health-care industry.
United Parcel Service Inc. (NYSE: UPS) said Tuesday it started a new logistics service that delivers medical samples via unmanned drones through a collaboration with Matternet, an autonomous drone technology company.
The program is taking place at WakeMed Health & Hospitals’ flagship hospital and campus in the Raleigh, N.C., with oversight by the Federal Aviation Administration and North Carolina Department of Transportation. UPS said Tuesday’s flight marked “the beginning of numerous planned daily revenue flights at the WakeMed Raleigh campus.”
UPS said the program represents a major milestone for unmanned aviation in the U.S. as, 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 roadway delays, increase medical delivery efficiency, lower costs and improve the patient experience with potentially life-saving benefits,” UPS said in a news release.
The program uses Matternet’s M2 quadcopter, which is powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, and can carry medical payloads weighing up to about 5 pounds over distances of up to 12.5 miles.
Here is how UPS explains the program: A medical professional loads a secure drone container with a medical sample or specimen – such as a blood sample – at one of WakeMed’s nearby facilities. The drone flies along a predetermined flight path, monitored by a specially trained pilot, to a fixed landing pad at WakeMed’s main hospital and central pathology lab.
UPS said this will be an ongoing program at WakeMed, and that the program will be used to further discover how drones can be applied to transport services at other hospitals and medical facilities across the U.S.
“Together with UPS, we aim to shift the status quo for on-demand logistics for healthcare systems in the U.S. through drone delivery networks,” said Matternet CEO Andreas Raptopoulos. “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. 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.”
This collaboration is the latest in the Atlanta-based logistic giant’s attempts to use drone flights in support of healthcare logistics. In 2016, UPS partnered with GAVI and Zipline in to deliver blood products to remote locations in Rwanda.
UPS said that enhancing its Global Smart Logistics Network to support hospitals and other healthcare organizations remains a key element of the company’s transformation strategy.
“Using drones to bring blood and other diagnostic specimens from medical facilities to central labs will improve transport efficiencies like never before,” said Chris Cassidy, UPS president of global healthcare & life sciences strategy, in a news release. “And with fewer vehicles on the road, we’ll generate less environmental impact.”
Earlier this month, Reuters reported that UPS was preparing to test a service that dispatches nurses to vaccinate adults in their homes. That test, slated to launch later this year, would start at UPS’ 1.7 million-square-foot healthcare complex at Worldport in Louisville, according to Reuters. Workers would package and ship a vaccine to one of the more 4,700 franchised U.S. UPS stores.
That move comes as the UPS and its healthcare clients work to fend off cost pressures and competitive threats from Amazon.com Inc.