Matternet's drones have drawn interest from all kinds of folks looking to move objects in more efficient ways, from textbooks in Australia to lab samples in Switzerland. The latest party to turn to the Silicon Valley startup for aerial courier solutions is logistics giant UPS, which will use its aircraft to ferry medical samples between labs and a hospital in North Carolina.
Matternet announced trials in Switzerland back in 2017 and has now completed more than 3,000 flights carrying medical goods in the country, according to UPS. And the delivery company also has form in this area, having teamed up with drone startup Zipline and the Rwandan government to deliver blood samples in 2016. It also trialed delivery drones that launch from the tops of its trucks in 2017.
Now the two have joined forces to streamline operations at WakeMed's flagship health facility in Raleigh, North Carolina. The first flights kicked off today, will continue regularly from here on and are said to be the first routine revenue drone flights sanctioned by the Federal Aviation Administration, the US air safety regulator.
Typically, medical samples are transferred between WakeMed's facilities by car, but by bringing drones into the mix it is hoped these operations can be sped up, costs can be lowered and patient experiences can be improved, perhaps in life-saving ways.
Workers will load the medical samples into purpose-made containers at facilities "nearby" to the main WakeMed hospital in Raleigh, which serves as their delivery destination. No specifics are offered on the distance the drones will cover, but the aircraft in question is Matternet's M2, a rechargeable quadcopter that can carry 5-lb (2.3-kg) loads over distances of up to 12.5 mi (20 km).
The drones will follow a pre-determined flight path and will be monitored by a trained pilot until they land on a landing pad at WakeMed's main hospital. Through this exercise, which will also be overseen by the North Carolina Department of Transportation, the various parties will look to explore how drones can improve transport services at health facilities across the US.
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