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Transporting medical samples by drone


Transporting medical samples by drone

Ian Kerr

UPS is following in Swiss Post’s footsteps and delivering medical samples by drone.

Swiss Post’s first started trialling a medical drone delivery service in March 2017 in partnership with drone company Matternet. At first, two hospitals in Lugano were connected by drone. Laboratory samples are now being transported by drone between various medical sites in three Swiss cities.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing for the Swiss. In January, a Swiss Post drone crashed into Lake Zurich. According to Zurich city police, the parachute attached to the drone was lying next to it. If the drone registers unsolvable problems or deviates from its defined route, the rotors switch off and the parachute is triggered. As it descends towards the ground, it draws attention to itself by hooting and flashing.

Other Matternet drones operated by Swiss Post were grounded until the cause of the accident was established.

Apart from this incident, Swiss Post has successfully completed well over 3000 medical deliveries via drone.

So it comes as little surprise that another carrier has commenced a similar trial. UPS has announced it will deliver medical samples via unmanned drones through a collaboration with - you guessed it - Matternet. This comes only a few weeks after competitor FedEx made a big splash (not in Lake Zurich) with its FedEx SameDay Bot.

UPS’s drone programme will take place at WakeMed’s flagship hospital and campus in the Raleigh, N.C., metropolitan area, with numerous planned daily flights at the WakeMed Raleigh campus.

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.

Throughout the WakeMed program, 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 facilities. The drone will fly along a predetermined flight path, monitored by a specially trained Remote Pilot-in-Command, to a fixed landing pad at WakeMed’s main hospital and central pathology lab.

This isn’t UPS’s first foray into drone delivery. It partnered with GAVI and Zipline in 2016 to deliver blood products to remote locations in Rwanda. And back in early 2017 it launched a trial of van-borne package delivery drones. Whatever happened to that?

Aside from the headline-catching deployment of drones, UPS has its eye on the healthcare sector. Just recently it emerged that UPS is preparing to test a U.S. service that dispatches nurses to vaccinate adults in their homes.

UPS says that healthcare and life science logistics is a priority segment, and the company is building new relationships and technologies to deliver better patient care with streamlined logistics and supply chain.

Who else is dabbling in healthcare and pharmaceuticals? Well, Amazon of course!

A drone that probably won’t crash into Lake Zurich.

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