A small, white drone last month began delivering samples, including blood, between Raleigh’s WakeMed Hospital surgical center and the primary testing lab at its main campus. In the following weeks, the supplies made daily flights that professionals hope will eventually transport life-saving products like blood to more rural locations.
The flights are conducted through a collaboration with United Parcel Service and California-based drone manufacturer Matternet and is overseen by the North Carolina Department of Transportation and the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program (IPP).
The three-year pilot program seeks to safely test the integration of drones into commercial airspace.
The flights use Matternet’s M2 quadcopter drone, which can carry medical payloads of up to about 5 pounds for more than 12 miles. Each flight begins with a medical professional loading a secure drone container with a medical sample or specimen. In about 3 minutes, it flies a path to and from a landing pad at WakeMed’s main hospital.
Dr. Stuart Ginn, a WakeMed ENT surgeon and director of innovations for the hospital, said his team first considered implementing drone technology after realizing the existing process for transporting blood samples was inefficient. He said lab samples accounted for 70 percent of what the hospital was shipping through couriers.