July 5, 2022
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First Test of Drone Delivery for Medical Supplies in the United States

2 min read

Over the past several years, more and more uses have been found for drones. Lately, companies and organizations have been experimenting with using drone technology to help deliver medical supplies. The Federal Aviation Administration has started a one-of-a-kind program in Raleigh, N.C. to test medical deliveries using drones.

The program is part of the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program. In this program, drones will be used to create and promote efficiency in how hospitals manage deliveries of medical supplies. This program is made possible by a partnership between NCDOT and WakeMed, with help from Matternet, a California drone company.

According to WakeMed medical director, Dr. Stuart Ginn, “We’re looking a way we can deliver care. Drone technology…has really changed that equation.”

With about 31 million injuries that need medical attention occurring in the U.S. each year, it’s important for hospitals and emergency responders to get the equipment they need in a timely manner. And with the current method of medical deliveries, supplies may take up to two hours to be delivered. But Matternet founder and CEO Andreas Raptopoulos says that drones can significantly reduce delivery time, possibly having it down to only nine minutes.

Matternet has already been running test deliveries overseas with drones. And in Switzerland, the company has already have over 1,800 successful drone flights for various healthcare systems.

This program is special because it makes the first time drones are being used to deliver medical supplies in the United States. The first flight was done mid-August and flew just a few buildings away — and yet, it was still a miraculous event.

Raptopoulos hopes that someday, every large medical system in the country will have the opportunity to use drones to make medical deliveries. And with more than 770,000 drones already being registered with the FAA, drone technology continues to grow and evolve to better suit society’s needs.

The Matternet drone being used for the test deliveries has four rotors and a weight of about 23 pounds. The battery pack the drone is equipped with has enough power to allow it to stay in the air for about 25 minutes, which is perfect for relatively short distance deliveries. The drone can only carry up to 4.4 pounds and can follow a pre-programmed route with ease.

For now, the test drone flights will only be done between two buildings on the WakeMed campus to ensure safety is kept a top priority. But the company staff has plans to test drone transports to facilities up to 11 miles away and they’re excited to see how those test flights run in the near future.

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