UPS launching drone delivery of medical samples with WakeMed

UPS is partnering with WakeMed Health & Hospitals to deliver medical samples via unmanned drone at the health system's campus in North Carolina. 

The numerous planned daily revenue flights of the drone-based transport system will allow medical professionals to secure drone containers with medical samples or specimens—such as a blood sample—at one of WakeMed’s Raleigh facilities.

The drone will fly along a predetermined flight path to a fixed landing pad at the main hospital and central pathology lab to be analyzed. It will have oversight from the FAA and North Carolina Department of Transportation. 

Officials said the introduction of drone delivery will reduce transport time from about 30 minutes to three minutes, increase the number of medical deliveries and lower costs.

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The announcement of the new service from UPS Healthcare comes just days after the global logistics company revealed that it is preparing to test a service in the U.S. later this year that would send nurses to vaccinate adults in their homes. It is also part of an apparent move to fend off competitors like Amazon, which has sought to build its own delivery model, has entered the drug distribution market with the acquisition of PillPack last year and is also in the midst of building healthcare partnership Haven with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan.

The program will use unmanned drones from Menlo Park, California-based Matternet, a company that raised a $16 million series A funding round led by Boeing HorizonX Ventures last June. At the time, Matternet said they were helping to establish the framework that will enable a new layer of on-demand, urban transportation.

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In May 2018, Matternet was among a few companies chosen to carry out drone logistics operations for U.S. hospitals under the Federal Aviation Administration's Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program.

The company is also working with UC San Diego Health and the city of San Diego to establish Matternet networks for on-demand transportation of lab samples and medical items between hospital facilities.

In October 2017, it began a partnership with the Ticino EOC hospital group in Switzerland and so far has conducted more than 1,700 flights over densely populated areas and more than 850 deliveries of patient samples.