Clinical laboratories continue to test sample delivery by drone as a viable alternative to ground transport
In Switzerland, another clinical laboratory drone delivery service recently launched and it has several unique capabilities. This new pilot project to test the delivery of medical laboratory samples by UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle, aka drone) is being conducted by the Dr. Risch laboratory group and start-up drone company Jedsy.
What makes the Risch/Jedsy drone delivery service unique when compared to other drone delivery services is their drone’s capability to deliver directly to windows, regardless of where that window is. This, according to a Jedsy news release, “makes the transport of samples faster and more environmentally friendly.”
Dr. Risch group has 14 clinical laboratories and eight sample collection locations throughout Switzerland. The Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA) approved Dr. Risch’s first flight between its lab in Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein, to its lab in Buchs St. Gallen, sUAS News reported. Risch began transporting lab samples between those locations on an experimental basis in December of 2022.
The Jedsy glider, as the drone is called, has a distinctive vertical takeoff, hover, and landing capability. Once it achieves a safe altitude, it transitions to forward flight and can travel at speeds up to 150 kilometers per hour or about 93 miles per hour.
All systems on the Jedsy drone are redundant and developed to be fail-safe. A human drone operator follows the flight visually via a livestream connection. Once the drone approaches a building for landing, with the exception of the docking station the entire surrounding area is blurred to ensure the privacy of nearby individuals.
The Jedsy Glider (above) is quieter than other multicopters, according to Jedsy, and is able to dock outside a window or balcony. This enables the convenient loading and unloading of clinical laboratory specimens in any type of weather. The docking station also serves as a charger for the drone’s battery to ensure the craft is available for use at any time. Similar medical laboratory sample drone delivery services have been tested in Switzerland but none with Dr. Risch Labs’ unique window delivery option. (Photo copyright: Jedsy.)
Why Transport Clinical Laboratory Samples by Drone?
“The last two years during the COVID-19 pandemic have shown convincingly how important this service is for the healthcare sector,” explained the medical laboratory group’s founder and CEO, Martin Risch, MD, in the Jedsy press release.
Risch envisions a need for drones in certain medical situations. Dr. Risch currently employs about 50 courier drivers who transport by ground medical samples to regional medical laboratories throughout Switzerland every day.
“If, however, the courier vehicles are stuck in traffic or if they are driving during rush hour, the planned daily routine regarding the analysis and the medical diagnosis is delayed. We hope that this will allow us to offer an even better service, which will ultimately benefit the patients,” Risch stated.
Jedsy has already utilized its glider drone successfully in Africa to deliver laboratory specimens and medicines to remote locations and looks forward to its continued benefits.
“With the new drone, we have already gained important flying experience in Malawi, where over 5,000 flights have been performed as part of the UNICEF drone corridor,” said aerospace engineer Herbert Weirather, founder and CEO of Jedsy, in the press release. “Health centers have already been supplied with critical medicines by Jedsy and the service is being expanded continuously,” he added.
Use of Drones to Deliver Clinical Laboratory Samples Growing Worldwide
Utilizing drones to deliver medical supplies and laboratory specimens is not a new concept and has been tested several times in the past. Dark Daily has previously reported on some of the projects that have been attempted.
The use of drones to deliver clinical laboratory specimens is a rising trend that could be extremely beneficial for healthcare systems, medical professionals, and patients. A number of clinical laboratories in the US and around the world have initiated drone pilot programs, however, there has been little follow-up press coverage about either the success of these efforts or whether they continue to operate.
Nevertheless, faster delivery of laboratory specimens can lead to more timely diagnoses which can potentially lead to better patient outcomes. In the future, it’s likely more clinical laboratories will receive specimens via drones.
Delivery of clinical laboratory specimens and medical supplies by drone is beginning to happen in different parts of the world
The idea that fleets of flying drones may someday legally transport clinical laboratory specimens may sound good—it may even be beneficial from a healthcare perspective—but it also could be hugely disruptive to medical labs that maintain large and expensive courier/logistics capabilities.
So, the announcement that the FAA had granted approval to Amazon’s new drone delivery fleet—Amazon Prime Air—may come as something of a mixed blessing to clinical laboratory managers and large healthcare networks.
But will this trend bode well for clinical laboratories?
Does Amazon Plan to Deliver Clinical Laboratory Specimens?
As yet, Amazon has not announced its intention to deliver clinical laboratory specimens. But given the company’s trajectory as a disrupter of traditional retail and shipping industries, it seems reasonable that competing with Wing and Flight Forward might be part of Amazon’s plan.
Wing and UPS are already operating fledgling clinical laboratory delivery networks in the US and other nations, such as Australia and Switzerland. Wing has been testing limited drone deliveries in Christiansburg, VA, since it received FAA approval to operate drone deliveries last year. UPS received similar approval last year to operate drones to deliver biological specimens and clinical laboratory supplies between physicians’ offices and the central clinical laboratory on WakeMed’s medical campus in Raleigh, NC.
Amazon’s drones can fly up to 7.5 miles from a distribution site (a 15-mile round trip) and can deliver packages that weigh less than five pounds to customers. The goal is to deliver small items that can fit in the drone’s cargo box to consumers in under 30 minutes.
Are Drones the Future of Medical Laboratory Specimen Delivery?
Routine deliveries via drones are still a long way off as more trial runs are needed and the FAA has to develop standards and regulations for drone delivery operations to maintain order in the skies. However, in a statement, the FAA said it is trying to support innovation in the expanding drone arena while ensuring that the devices operate safely. The FAA plans to finalize a set of regulations for drones by the end of this year, Bloomberg reported.
“This certification is an important step forward for Prime Air and indicates the FAA’s confidence in Amazon’s operating and safety procedures for an autonomous drone delivery service that will one day deliver packages to our customers around the world,” David Carbon, Vice President Prime Air at Amazon, said in a statement to Business Insider. “We will continue to develop and refine our technology to fully integrate delivery drones into the airspace and work closely with the FAA and other regulators around the world to realize our vision of 30-minute delivery.”
So, will Amazon one day announce plans to deliver medical supplies and clinical laboratory specimens in under 30 minutes too? It wouldn’t be unreasonable to believe in the possibility.
Dark Daily previously covered similar drone delivery services under development for healthcare situations around the world. In “Drones Used to Deliver Clinical Laboratory Specimens in Switzerland,” we reported how a multiple-facility hospital group in Switzerland was using drones to deliver lab samples between two of their locations.
Dark Daily also reported in 2017 that researchers from Johns Hopkins University had successfully flown a drone carrying lab specimens more than 161 miles across the Arizona desert, setting a US record for the longest distance drone delivery of viable medical specimens.
Amazon would fit right in.
Though regular drone delivery of medical supplies and clinical laboratory specimens may take some time to develop, it is a trend that laboratory managers should watch closely. The potential for drones to safely and inexpensively transport clinical laboratory specimens could become a reality sooner than expected.
Drone delivery of goods, including medical laboratory specimens, gains popularity around the world and FAA licensing in the US
In April, Dark Daily’s sister publication The Dark Report was first to report WakeMed Health and Hospitals’ use of a quadcopter drone to deliver patients’ medical laboratory specimens. The drone flew roundtrip between a complex of physicians’ offices on WakeMed’s Raleigh, N.C. campus and the central clinical laboratory.
The April flight was the first time a drone transport of medical
laboratory specimens in the US generated revenue.
Google Drone Delivery?
Not to be outdone, Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG), Google’s parent company, appears to be getting in on the trend. In April, the FAA issued an Air Carrier Certification to Wing Aviation LLC, an air delivery developer and subsidiary of Alphabet. Wing has recently launched a drone delivery service in Canberra, Australia and is testing a similar drone delivery service in the US.
“Our service allows customers to order a range of items such as fresh food, hot coffee, or over-the-counter chemist items on our mobile app, and have them delivered directly to their homes by drone in minutes,” Wing stated in a press release.
The FAA’s Air Carrier Certification allows Wing to deliver
goods from local businesses to private homes in the US. Their vertical take-off
drones weigh about 11 pounds, are equipped with a hover propeller to reduce
noise, and have wings that allow the devices to fly further and faster while using
The FAA certification restricts drone deliveries to daylight
hours only with no flying in the rain. The devices are allowed to fly over
people but cannot hover above them, nor can they carry any hazardous
The company plans to launch a trial delivery service later
this year in the Blacksburg and Christiansburg areas of Southwest Virginia.
Wing hopes to add other markets to its drone delivery service in the
“This is an important step forward for the safe testing and integration of drones into our economy. Safety continues to be our number one priority as this technology continues to develop and realize its full potential,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Elaine L. Chao, in a press release.
Wing Drones Deliver Over Australia Too!
Wing has been testing its drone delivery service in
Australia since 2014. Over the past 18 months, Wing has flown over 70,000 test
flights and made more than 3,000 successful deliveries—including food, small
household items, and over-the-counter drug store items—as part of the Australia
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, but commonly called drones) continue to gain in popularity around the world. As more drones appear in the sky, more practical functions are being discovered for them, including medical uses.
According to an article penned by Jeremy Tucker, DO, for Drones in Healthcare, numerous potential medical uses exist for drones. In addition to transport and delivery services, they may also be helpful in search and rescue missions and providing medical care and telemedicine services. Tucker is Executive Director for Patient Safety Solutions at US Acute Care Solutions.
“Drones are going to decrease the reliance on human beings
that provide care and decrease the cost of assisting people,” he predicted.
“Being able to cross long distances at faster speeds to deliver blood products
and lab samples also is a huge benefit. Now transporting blood products between
hospitals, for example, involves vehicles on the ground that are prone to
accidents and delays. Drones can help decrease those incidents.”
Prior to using drones for clinical laboratory specimen
deliveries, WakeMed relied on courier cars and trucks to transport specimens
within the campus. The ground delivery service could take up to an hour to
complete. By comparison, drones can make the same delivery in minutes, ensuring
lab specimens remain viable, and getting test results to patients faster.
Drone Delivery Around the World!
Dark Daily previously covered the use of drones to deliver laboratory specimens in Switzerland and laboratory supplies and blood products in Rwanda. And in 2017, Dark Daily reported that a team of researchers from Johns Hopkins University had successfully flown a drone carrying lab specimens more than 161 miles across the Arizona desert.
Might we soon see a Google drone delivery service for
clinical laboratory specimens as well?
The utilization of drones represents another market trend
that is creating opportunities for clinical laboratories. Using drones to
transport lab specimens could be a potential source of revenue and presents
labs with a pathway for providing value-added, timely service to healthcare
“Healthcare is a strategic imperative for us,” Abney said.
“We deliver a lot of important things, but lab [shipments] are critical, and
they’re very much a part of patient care.”
UPS entered the healthcare sector in 2000 with its acquisition of Livingston HealthCare. In 2016, the company acquired Marken, a move that Abney said, “sent a clear message to our customers that we were taking healthcare and clinical trials very seriously.”
Specimens Delivered by Drone
With healthcare deliveries already a big part of UPS’ ground
business, the company now moves lab specimens by drone on WakeMed’s hospital campus in
Raleigh, N.C. The effort marks the first commercial daily drone service to be
cleared by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for lab specimen
transport, and it is made possible through UPS’s new partnership with Menlo
Park, Calif.-based Matternet.
Matternet Founder and CEO Andreas Raptopoulos described how the new technology is impacting turnaround time, specimen stability, and viability. The “Future of Lab Logistics” session at EWC, featuring Raptopoulos and Shannon DeMar, Senior Marketing Manager Healthcare Strategy at UPS in Atlanta, Ga., brought questions about FAA regulations, risk mitigation, and more. Laboratory leaders are looking at how to take their logistics to the next level.
Delivery of Medical Lab Samples
The UPS/Matternet program represents a major milestone for
unmanned aviation in the United States, according to UPS, in a recent release.
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.
How drones, sensors, and new technologies are poised to
increase the quality and accuracy of specimen transport and logistics
represented just a slice of the first full day of sessions at Executive War
College. UPS is an official partner and sponsor.
Also speaking at the 24th Annual Executive War College on
Lab and Pathology Management:
Evolving market trends are creating both concern and
opportunities for the clinical laboratory industry. New sources of revenue are essential
at a time when fee-for-service prices for lab tests are decreasing.