Drone deliveries of cold chain medicines begin in rural North Carolina

Merck joins Volansi in collaborative effort to use the emerging technology in the healthcare supply chain


Volansi, Inc., an on-demand aerial delivery service for time-critical shipments, has begun delivering cold chain medicines from Merck’s Wilson, N.C. manufacturing site to Vidant Healthplex-Wilson, a medical center operated by Vidant Health and serving rural portions of the state.

Initial flights in the project resulted in the first drone delivery of temperature-controlled medicines within the U.S., according to Volansi. The move represents the first part of a three-phase project to learn about drone technology’s role and ability to improve access to healthcare.

Pilot program may help establish new supply chain option. (Image courtesy of Volansi, Inc.)

“We’ve seen the world’s supply chain strained like never before from the impact of Coronavirus,” said Hannan Parvizian, CEO and co-founder of Volansi. “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 requires minimal infrastructure to operate and also is capable of delivering such items as temperature trackers and shipping confirmation on returning flights.

“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,” said Craig Kennedy, senior VP, global supply chain management, at Merck, which is known as MSD outside the U.S. and Canada. “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 working 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.

For phases two and three of the project, Volansi said it plans to seek additional approval from the FAA to provide deliveries in other locations, enabling a flexible, on-demand and responsive supply of critical medicines.