Volansi has announced it is collaborating with multinational pharmaceutical company Merck and Vidant Health on a commercial healthcare drone delivery service project in North Carolina, United States.

The VTOL drone developer will pilot the transportation of cold chain medicine between Merck’s manufacturing site in Wilson and the city’s Vident Healthplex clinic. It is the first of three phases to learn about drone technology’s role and ability to improve access to healthcare.

Hannan Parvizian, CEO and Co-Founder of Volansi, said: “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.”

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 USA.

The project will utilise 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 VTOL system will allow it to deliver fragile cargo with a ‘soft touch’ automated release once the drone has landed at the delivery location.

It 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, said: “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.”

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 deliveries are made safely and in accordance with state and federal guidelines.

The company will also 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.

Brian Floyd, Chief Operating Officer, Vidant, added: “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.”