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Health care is a commercial activity where being fast really matters. Drones can solve many challenges in medical deliveries. However, the approval process for drone flights of medical devices or supplies is complex because they may contain hazardous materials.
But for the first time, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has allowed regular commercial flights of drones carrying products, enabling the pioneering use of drones to fly blood samples across a hospital campus. The aim is to cut down on the time it takes to transport the time-sensitive samples typically driven on the ground.
The short drone trips will be carried out between WakeMed buildings in Raleigh, North Carolina. UPS and drone company Matternet partnered with the hospital on the program.
The FAA confirmed in a statement that it hadn’t previously allowed drones to make routine commercial package deliveries, known as revenue flights. Others have flown drone deliveries as part of smaller-scale tests or demonstrations.
According to Matternet CEO Andreas Raptopoulos, the program will start by flying patients’ medical samples one-third of a mile from a medical park to the main hospital building for lab testing at least six times a day five days a week.
Vials of blood or other specimens will be loaded into a secure box and carried to a drone launching pad, where they will be fastened to the aircraft and flown to another building. Flights will technically be within sight of operators on either end of the route, and they are authorized to fly above people.
In the coming months, the program could expand to flying miles-long routes between the medical facility buildings.
North Carolina is one of nine sites participating in the FAA’s pilot program to accelerate integrating drones for new uses ranging from utility inspections to insurance claims. The test sites get leeway trying new innovations while working closely with the federal officials in charge of regulating the drones.
Officials in Reno, Nevada, are in early testing of a program to deliver defibrillators to people having health emergencies. The defibrillator project has so far been testing at a rural site and hasn’t begun home deliveries, according to weirtondailytimes.com.