Drones will begin ferrying medical supplies to addresses in Tacoma, Washington, starting in 2024, two companies behind the project said Thursday. It's the latest example of using unpiloted aircraft to move critical goods more quickly than conventional transportation.
Startup drone maker Zipline and health care provider MultiCare said the service will whisk lab samples, medicines and test kits among Multicare's local facilities, the companies exclusively told CNET. MultiCare expects the partnership will mean its health care providers, with their own on-demand delivery system, will be able to improve the care patients get.
The Tacoma project still requires regulatory approval for details of the flight operations, including whether Zipline drones will fly autonomously, as they do in the company's other operations.
"Making sure our providers have what they need, when they need it, is a critical part of providing affordable and accessible care to patients," said Florence Chang, president of MultiCare, in a statement.
The Tacoma project marks the latest use of drones to speed up deliveries, which can be slowed by increasingly congested roads. The World Economic Forum expects delivery truck usage will increase 78% by 2030 without alternative shipping approaches, adding 11 minutes to average commute times.
Drones are already in limited operations in the US. Wing, operated by Google parent Alphabet, has begun deliveries in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in Texas. In parts of North Carolina, Flytrex drones deliver food from Just Wings, Chili's Grill & Bar and Maggiano's Little Italy to homes. Amazon Prime Air plans to test drone deliveries south of Sacramento, California.
South San Francisco-based Zipline has made nearly 345,000 deliveries to date, mostly with national-scale programs in Rwanda and Ghana, and on average delivers a package every two minutes. It began a US expansion last year, shipping packages for retail giant Walmart in Pea Ridge, Arkansas. In June, it began delivering medical supplies from a distribution center in Kannapolis, North Carolina, for Novant Health, Magellan Rx Management and Cardinal Health.
In June, Zipline cleared one US regulatory hurdle, winning a Federal Aviation Administration certification that permits flights up to 26 miles.