UPS partners with drone startup Matternet for medical sample deliveries

Unmanned drone deliveries are making their way inside the UPS network. Thanks to a partnership with drone startup Matternet, UPS will start delivering medical samples via unmanned drones at WakeMed’s hospital in Raleigh, N.C.

With the approval of the Federal Aviation Administration and North Carolina’s department of transportation, UPS and Matternet will conduct routine daily flights that transport medical samples. Previously, WakeMed relied on courier cars, which were subject to road delays.

The drone-led deliveries entail a medical professional first loading the drone with a medical sample or specimen, such as a blood sample. From there, the drone will fly along a predetermined route to a fixed landing pad at WakeMed’s main hospital and central pathology lab.

UPS and Matternet will then be able to analyze the program and better determine how drones can be more broadly used to improve deliveries at other hospitals throughout the country. UPS previously partnered with Zipline to test medical deliveries via drone in remote communities.

“We believe unmanned aerial systems could better serve customer needs and provide opportunities for network improvements that generate efficiencies and enable us to grow our business,” UPS VP of Advanced Technology Group Bala Ganesh said in a statement.

By deploying drones, the hope is to reduce costs and increase efficiency. Matternet conducted test flights last August as part of the FAA’s unmanned aircraft system integration pilot program (IPP).

This comes about a year after Matternet secured a $16 million round led by Boeing HorizonX Ventures, the aviation company’s venture arm. At the time, the Federal Aviation Administration had recently selected, among others, Matternet for drone logistics operations for U.S. hospitals as part of its Unmanned Aircraft System pilot program. In 2015, Matternet started testing the first drone delivery system in Zurich, Switzerland to transport blood and pathology samples to labs.

Matternet has since expanded its operations in Switzerland and has conducted more than 1,700 flights over densely populated areas to make more than 850 deliveries of patient samples.

“Together with UPS, we aim to shift the status quo for on-demand logistics for healthcare systems in the U.S. through drone delivery networks,” Matternet CEO Andreas Raptopoulos said in a statement. “Our technology allows hospital systems to transport medical items at an unprecedented level of speed and predictability, resulting in improved patient care and operational savings.”