Innovative use of drones to take blood samples from a hospital campus in North Carolina was launched Tuesday as part of the latest initiative to expand their roles in the areas of business and health care .
Short shifts between WakeMed buildings in Raleigh mark the first time the Federal Aviation Administration authorized regular commercial flights of UAVs carrying goods, according to UPS and the UAV company Matternet, which partnered with the program's hospital.
"It's a turning point and a historic moment, as it's the first use of an FAA-sanctioned (drone) for routine revenue-generating flights," said Bala Ganesh, vice – Chairman of UPS 's leading technology group, in an interview before the announcement.
The FAA confirmed in a statement Monday that it has never allowed drones to make routine commercial deliveries, known as commercial flights. Others have made deliveries of drones in the context of trials or demonstrations on a smaller scale.
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The WakeMed program will begin by sending medical samples of patients to a medical test at least six times a day and five days a week, said Matternet general manager Andreas Raptopoulos, within a radius of 0.5 km. in an interview. Flasks of blood or other samples will be loaded into a secure box and routed to a drone launch pad, where they will be attached to the aircraft and airlifted to another building. He added that flights would be technically visible to operators at both ends of the road, and that they are allowed to fly over passengers.
The goal is to reduce the time needed to transport time-sensitive samples, usually sent to the ground.
"This will bring huge benefits to health care," he said in an interview. "Health care is one of those areas of commercial activity where speed really matters."
The announcement does not mean that routine physical exams this year or next year will feature unmanned aircraft that will visit your internist's office to speed up your cholesterol results, say the experts.
But the North Carolina program could extend to multi-kilometer flights between WakeMed buildings in the Raleigh area in the coming months, Raptopoulos said. He also added that medical sample thefts could start in one or two other hospitals in other cities later in 2019.
North Carolina is one of nine sites participating in the FAA pilot program to accelerate the integration of UAVs for new uses, ranging from utility inspections to insurance claims. Test sites have room to experiment with new innovations while working closely with federal drone regulators.
On other test sites in the program, drone operators recently delivered ice lollypops to a Virginia neighborhood, and officials in Reno, Nevada, are currently testing a program to provide defibrillators to people in need. d & # 39; emergency.
The defibrillator project in Nevada has so far been tested on a rural site and has not yet begun being delivered to the home, said Rebecca Venis, director of communications for the city. The process of approving flights of medical device drones or medical supplies is complex because they may contain hazardous materials.
"It's different than dropping a package," she said.
Mark Blanks, director of Virginia Tech's Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership, also said licensing commercial drones could be a significant achievement.
"It's not a security issue, it's a part of economic license," he said.
Colin Snow of the Skylogic drone research company said that it remained to be seen how much medical drone shipments would be profitable. He said the regulatory hurdles and significant costs of implementing programs could hamper their deployment across the country.
"It just goes back to the old adage: it's not because you can, you should do it," he said. "These are interesting tests that make the headlines, but when it comes to the … economics of logistics, the situation is different."