UPS hopes to start drone flights of medical specimens in North Carolina.

UPS hopes to start drone flights of medical specimens in North Carolina.

Screenshot via UPS.

UPS will begin using drones to deliver medical samples at WakeMed's flagship hospital in Raleigh, N.C., once it gains approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, the parcel delivery company has announced.

UPS is working with Matternet, an autonomous delivery drone startup, on the program, which is believed to be the first revenue-generating drone delivery service in the U.S. Matternet is supplying its M2 quadcopter drone that can carry up to 5 pounds as far as 12.5 miles. The M2 is powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery.

The service will provide the option for on-demand and same-day delivery.

"UPS Healthcare & Life Sciences is excited to expand on our current lab specimen logistics portfolio to drive step change in today’s delivery models," said Chris Cassidy, UPS president of global healthcare and life sciences strategy. "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 flights would begin, after a medical professional loads a secure drone container with the sample or specimen at one of WakeMed's nearby facilities. The drone will then take off with the supervision of a remote pilot, who will fly it to a fixed landing pad at the main hospital and central pathology lab.

Test flights were completed in August at WakeMed's campus as part of the FAA's unmanned aircraft pilot program.

UPS has been experimenting with drone flights to support healthcare logistics. In 2016, UPS partnered with GAVI and Zipline to deliver blood products to remote locations in Rwanda. Matternet has completed more than 3,000 flights for heathcare providers in Switzerland.

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