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UPS said Tuesday it is rolling out a new drone delivery service for medical samples in an effort to improve the efficiency of hospitals around the world.
A partnership with autonomous drone company Matternet and hospital WakeMed in Raleigh, North Carolina, represents an expansion of a test program begun in August under the supervision of North Carolina's Transportation Department. The Federal Aviation Administration is overseeing the program.
UPS said the service will utilize Matternet's M2 "quadcopter" drone, which can carry medical samples of up to 5 pounds as far as 12.5 miles.
The program will begin with "numerous planned daily revenue flights at the WakeMed Raleigh campus," UPS said. The drone delivery service aims to replace WakeMed's reliance on a fleet of courier cars, which currently transports most of the hospital's medical samples. Using a UPS "secure drone container," WakeMed employees can load medical specimens like blood samples and send them quickly to a nearby WakeMed facility.
Matternet has completed "more than 3,000 flights for healthcare systems in Switzerland," UPS added. The WakeMed program is also under the FAA's broader effort called the "Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program," which "aims to test practical applications of drones by partnering local governments with private sector companies."