In September 2019, UPS became the first company to receive a Federal Aviation Administration certification to operate a drone delivery aircraft. UPS is now partnering with iQ Healthtech Labs to provide drone delivery of medical supplies and PPE to a network of healthcare providers in North Carolina.

iQ Healthtech Labs, founded by Wake Forest Baptist Health, is an “innovation ecosystem” dedicated to forming non-traditional partnerships for the development of cutting-edge health tech solutions. The drone delivery program offers providers affiliated with Wake Forest Baptist Health a safe way to receive time- and temperature-sensitive medical supplies. 

Beginning July 14th, the UPS Flight Forward drone delivery program deployed Matternet M2 drones using a “hub-and-spoke” model, the first of its kind for drone delivery. The drones originate from the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem and deliver supplies to multiple satellite locations. 

The M2 drones have affixed cargo boxes designed to hold sensitive medications and supplies. Trained drone operators at the Winston-Salem campus operate the drones during takeoff, flight, and landing while monitoring the airspace for other aircraft.

Currently, the program operates two separate routes. Specialty infusion medicines that require a delivery time of 10 minutes, as well as custom-compounded medications, arrive on a schedule via the first route. The second route delivers PPE, such as facemasks, N95 respirators, eye protection, and disposable medical gloves, on-demand. The program expects to add additional routes to facilitate the delivery of other necessary medical supplies in the future. 

UPS Flight Forward has also partnered with CVS to offer drone prescription delivery to seniors at their homes in The Villages, a Florida retirement community with more than 132,000 residents. Healthcare-related drone delivery is likely to expand rapidly due to the Covid-19 crisis, as it provides a low-risk, fast, and convenient alternative to in-person delivery.