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 flight was the culmination of a multi-year drone-delivery pilot program during which a team at WakeMed collaborated with the United Parcel Service (UPS), the Federal Aviation Commission (FAA), and the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT). Matternet of Menlo Park, Calif., manufactured the drones used for the flights.

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 photo above shows a Virginia family receiving breakfast delivered by a Wing drone, part of an FAA validation flight. (Photo copyright: Wing Aviation.)

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 less energy.

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 materials.  

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 future. 

“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 project.

In April, the company launched a commercial air delivery service in the North Canberra area of Australia after receiving approval from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).

Drone Delivery Could Reshape Healthcare

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 networks.

—JP Schlingman

Related Information:

Google’s Wing Kicks off First Drone Delivery Service in Australia

UPS Partners with Matternet to Transport Medical Samples via Drone Across Hospital System in Raleigh, N.C.

Matternet Partners with UPS as It Launches First Regular Drone Delivery Service in U.S.

UPS Launches First Revenue Drone Delivery Service in U.S.

FAA and NCDOT Launch Drone Pilot Over WakeMed

UAS Integration Pilot Program

NCDOT Launches ‘First Flight’ in Drone Pilot Program

Chairman and CEO David Abney Explains UPS’ Drive Toward Drone Technology

WakeMed Used Drone to Deliver Patient Specimens

Drones Used to Deliver Clinical Laboratory Specimens in Switzerland