It won’t be long before drones become part of daily life. They’re inspecting buildings, and delivering packages and blood samples all over the world.

Just yesterday (April 24), Zipline, a California-based drone company, launched the largest vaccine drone delivery network in the world—in Ghana. It will use drones to provide roughly 150 medications, vaccines, and blood products to 2,000 health facilities throughout the country, 24 hours a day.

But in the US, where there are more planes flying in the sky at any one time than anywhere else in the world, it’s more complicated. Before these flying robots start delivering our packages on a large scale, we have to make sure they’re safe enough to fly in dense metropolitan areas.

To find the best way for drones to integrate into the national airspace, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) launched a program in 2018 to test flying drones in a range of situations and environments across the country.  One of the companies involved in the pilot program is UPS, which has partnered with another Californian startup, the drone company Matternet, to test a medical drone-delivery service in in North Carolina. It’s using autonomous drones to transport blood samples across WakeMed, a hospital campus in Raleigh. For North Carolina, delivering blood by drone is both cheaper and more efficient than methods used elsewhere. Deliveries by road couriers can take far longer than the three minutes on average it takes a drone. Deliveries to the campus currently take anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours, depending on where they’re coming from.

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