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The first commercial drone delivery scheme in the US is already flying

UPS has started delivering medical samples in the US, using drones built by Matternet.

The flights: They’re taking place at the WakeMed hospital and campus in Raleigh in North Carolina. The first flight was last Tuesday, and the drones are now flying across the campus about 10 times a day, with possible plans to increase the frequency if the scheme is a success. This is the first revenue-generating drone delivery scheme to be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, as part of a three-year program to test drones’ practical applications.

The drones: They can carry up to 5 pounds (2.3 kilograms) of cargo over distances of up to 12.5 miles (20 kilometers). They’re autonomously flying along a set path for this project, monitored by a human pilot in case of any accidents.

The logic: Currently, most medical samples are moved around the campus by car. The hope is that these drones will help to cut traffic on the roads around the hospital and decrease costs. Moving around medical samples has proved to be one of the most compelling early uses for drone deliveries. Zipline has used drones have been used to fly blood supplies in Rwanda, for example. Other applications are taking much longer to become commercially viable.

Correction: The initial version of this article incorrectly stated that Matternet's drones have also been used to deliver blood samples in Rwanda. In fact, this service is provided by Zipline. We have now updated it.

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