UPS has set its sights on serving hospital campuses after earning a first-of-its-kind federal certification to expand its drone delivery network.
UPS Flight Forward, a UPS subsidiary, last week earned Part 135 Standard certification from the Federal Aviation Administration. That marks the first time the FAA has awarded a company full approval to operate a so-called "drone airline," lifting restrictions on how many drones the company can deploy and the weight of cargo onboard the drones, UPS said in a statement Tuesday.
UPS said its initial customer base for the drone delivery service will be hospital campuses.
Earlier this year, UPS launched its healthcare delivery service through a partnership with drone manufacturer Matternet, WakeMed Health & Hospitals, the North Carolina Department of Transportation and the FAA. The service will test whether using drones to transport lab samples across WakeMed's Raleigh, N.C., facilities will reduce turnaround time for lab results.
UPS said it has already started flying under the new certification at WakeMed's campus.
It's not the first time drones have been used in a hospital setting, though other projects have been more limited in scope.
This past spring, researchers with the University of Maryland successfully delivered a donor kidney to surgeons at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore via drone. Drone startup Flirtey in 2016 partnered with Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine to test ship-to-shore deliveries of blood samples, but has since pivoted its healthcare efforts to work with EMS providers by delivering automated external defibrillators, or AEDs.
With this new certification under its belt, UPS said its initial focus will be expanding the drone delivery service to more hospital campuses. UPS did not discuss next steps for its healthcare ambitions, but said it would build on its pilot project with WakeMed to "expand to a variety of critical-care or lifesaving applications."
Other long-term goals for the company include stepping beyond the healthcare industry to transport other regulated goods.
"We will soon announce other steps to build out our infrastructure, expand services for healthcare customers and put drones to new uses in the future," UPS CEO David Abney said in a statement.