UPS announced its drone delivery subsidiary, UPS Flight Forward (UPSFF), and iQ Healthtech Labs have collaborated to launch a commercial drone delivery service this week at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, N.C.
The service uses Matternet’s M2 drone models in a hub-and-spoke routing model to provide rapid delivery for time- and temperature-sensitive medical supplies, UPS said in a blog post.
According to the post, UPSFF began operating drone service on two routes from one location at Wake Forest Baptist to two other health system locations.
One route is for drones carrying specialty infusion medicines that aren’t commercially available, yet their quick expirations require fast delivery. The second route is for drones carrying on-demand supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as surgical masks for medical professionals.
While these routes satisfy the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) visual line of site rule, the goal is to launch a route that have FAA approval to fly beyond the operator’s line of sight, the blog post said.
As part of the initiative at Wake Forest, UPS Flight Forward will also establish an office in the iQ Healthtech Labs headquarters to evaluate additional delivery routes and drone use cases.
UPS started the first ongoing drone delivery service in March 2019 at WakeMed’s flagship hospital and campus in Raleigh, N.C. The revenue-generating service has flown more than 2,000 paid commercial flights across the campus and initiated similar services on other U.S. healthcare campuses, according to UPS.
A few months after launching the WakeMed operation, UPS created UPS Flight Forward, a drone airline.
UPSFF also recently established a drone service to deliver prescription medicines for a retirement community in Florida. The service provides an option for seniors at higher risk for coronavirus infection to receive prescriptions without going to a pharmacy.
“Innovation on this scale takes time and patience,” said Bala Ganesh, vice president of the Advanced Technology Group at UPS and author of the blog. “It can’t happen all at once. But there’s no denying that the U.S. drone delivery industry has come a long way in a little over a year.”