Volansi, a Silicon Valley-backed startup specializing in middle-mile drone delivery services, announces it has begun a commercial healthcare drone delivery project in North Carolina.
In collaboration with Merck, known as MSD outside the U.S. and Canada, Volansi is piloting the delivery of cold chain medicines from Merck’s Wilson, N.C. manufacturing site to Vidant Healthplex-Wilson, a Vidant Health clinic, as the first of three phases in a project to learn about drone technology’s role and ability to improve access to healthcare.
With 1.4 million people across 29 counties, eastern North Carolina’s vast, rural environment can create challenges for accessing care. Initial flights in the project resulted in the first drone delivery of temperature-controlled medicines within the U.S. In response to these topographical challenges, Volansi will utilize its VOLY C10, an all-electric drone capable of carrying 10-pounds of cargo to locations up to 50 miles away. The VOLY C10’s vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) system allows it to deliver fragile cargo with a “soft touch” automated release once the drone has landed at the delivery location. The VTOL system also requires minimal infrastructure to operate and is also capable of delivering on the returning flight items to support order confirmation like temperature trackers and shipping confirmation.
“As a healthcare leader, Merck is very supportive of collaborations using new technologies to explore how one day we could help better serve the healthcare community. Our existing distribution system is strong, and this pilot helps us explore new innovative delivery options that would complement our existing supply chain capabilities,” said Craig Kennedy, Senior Vice President, Global Supply Chain Management, Merck.
Volansi is also collaborating with the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program and the North Carolina Department of Transportation to ensure that its deliveries are made safely and in accordance with state and federal guidelines. The company is simultaneously seeking approval from the FAA to provide deliveries in additional locations, for phases two and three of the project, enabling a flexible, on-demand, and responsive supply of critical medicines.
As stated by Volansi CEO and Co- Founder Hannan Parvizian, “We are at the cusp of an exciting new endeavor. As we seek FAA approval to expand the project’s scope to additional delivery locations, our vision for a world where everybody has ready access to life-saving medical supplies is becoming clearer by the day.”
Why it’s important: Merck and Volansi have had many collaborations across the years, including an initiative to deliver temperature-sensitive medicines in the Bahamas and Puerto Rico after the devastation of hurricanes Maria and Florence. Although only a first step, these demonstrations foreshadow the potential for players in the rising aerial mobility industry to redefine the biopharmaceutical supply chain of the future. Recently, companies such as Falck have already made public their intention to establish VTOL emergency response efforts with unmanned drone programs. Ultimately, these programs will be able to get paramedics to the scene of an emergency faster than ever.
Source // Volansi press release