Medical Drone Deliveries Tested at North Carolina Hospital

WakeMed Health & Hospitals, a provider of health services in Wake County, N.C., has teamed up with drone delivery company Matternet and the N.C. Department of Transportation’s (NCDOT) Division of Aviation to launch simulated medical package deliveries via unmanned aircraft system (UAS).

The flights are part of the federal UAS Integration Pilot Program (UAS IPP), a three-year initiative to test the practical applications of drones by partnering local governments with private-sector companies.

The first round of the North Carolina partners’ flights is taking place today through Friday at WakeMed Raleigh Campus, the health system’s flagship hospital, located in southeast Raleigh. The test flights brought simulated medical packages from Raleigh Medical Park, located across from WakeMed Raleigh Campus, to a main tower at the hospital.

“This ‘First Flight’ is a major step forward in the worlds of healthcare and unmanned technology,” says Basil Yap, head of NCDOT’s UAS program. “We’re crossing a new frontier that will bring increased efficiency and lower costs to healthcare providers and, ultimately, help save patients’ lives.”

“This powerful technology has the potential to achieve transformative improvements in health and healthcare delivery,” comments Stuart Ginn, a WakeMed ENT physician and medical director of WakeMed Innovations. “As a Level I Trauma Center, WakeMed is committed to providing lifesaving treatment when time matters the most. Developing healthcare-related uses for drones will improve speed of deliveries, enhance access to care and create healthier communities.”

The partnership involves delivering blood samples and other medical items across WakeMed’s network of healthcare facilities. Matternet has completed more than 1,800 successful flights for healthcare systems in Switzerland.

“This represents a major milestone for unmanned aviation in the U.S.,” says Andreas Raptopoulos, founder and CEO of Matternet. “We’re thrilled to be working with WakeMed and the NCDOT to launch the first medical drone delivery operations over densely populated areas in the U.S.”

To help ensure safe operations, AirMap is providing UAS traffic management services for the flights. The AirMap UTM platform helps drone pilots stay aware of aircraft, weather conditions, airspace restrictions and other possible conflicts.

“Today’s initial operations demonstrate a very important commercial use case for drones with lifesaving potential,” notes Ben Marcus, AirMap’s co-founder and chairman. “We look forward to working closely with NCDOT and the Federal Aviation Administration to operationalize and scale these drone missions to extend the benefits of drones to the general public.”

Following the initial flights, NCDOT will host a public meeting on Thursday, during which people learn more about the program, as well as ask questions or submit comments to NCDOT, WakeMed, Matternet and other partners. The public meeting will be held 4-7 p.m. at the Wake Tech Community College Perry Health Sciences Campus in Raleigh.

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