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Merck and Volansi launch commercial drone service to deliver cold-chain medicines in rural North Carolina

Volansi, a drone company specializing in medical logistics, has launched a commercial healthcare drone delivery project in North Carolina.

In collaboration with pharmaceuticals and biotech giant Merck, known as MSD outside the US and Canada, Volansi is piloting the delivery of cold-chain medicines from Merck’s Wilson, North Carolina 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 US.

Hannan Parvizian, CEO and co-founder of Volansi, says: “We’ve seen the world’s supply chain strained like never before from the impact of Coronavirus.

“There’s now an accelerated need for rapid advancements in supply chain technology, especially in healthcare. Drone delivery is one solution to getting critical supplies where they are needed, at the moment they are needed most.”

The project utilizes Volansi’s 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.

Craig Kennedy, senior vice president, global supply chain management, Merck, says: “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.”

Brian Floyd, chief operating officer, Vidant, says: “At Vidant Health, innovation and collaboration help us increase access to care and meet our mission to improve health and well-being across eastern North Carolina.

“This project with Merck and Volansi is the beginning of an exciting endeavor to explore additional ways we can meet the unique needs of those we serve.”

Volansi is 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.

Volansi will seek additional 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.

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