U.S. hospitals are in the midst of a massive shortage. Everything from latex gloves to lab testing equipment is in short supply at a time when demand is pushing the hospital system to its limit — as of Monday, nearly 80% of all U.S. inpatient hospital beds were in use, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
With no end in sight to the COVID-19 pandemic and its resulting equipment shortages, can drones deliver? Wingcopter is betting that they can. The German drone delivery company on Monday inked a $16 million deal with U.S. medical unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) services provider Spright to supply a “large fleet” of its Wingcopter 198 drones that will deliver everything from vaccines to blood samples.
Launched in July 2020, Spright, the drone subsidiary of aerial transport company Air Methods, has been working toward a nationwide drone delivery network specifically for health care products, having already established 300 bases serving hundreds of hospitals across 48 states, mainly in rural areas.
The new deal will make Wingcopter the company’s exclusive supplier of fixed-wing, electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) delivery aircraft, while Spright becomes the sole provider of maintenance, repair and overhaul for the Wingcopter 198 to third parties in the U.S.
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“We are fortunate to have Wingcopter on board as our aircraft technology partner. With their industry-leading eVTOL aircraft design, Wingcopter brings a level of maturity needed to address the complex and diverse demands of the U.S. health care market,” said Spright President Joseph Resnik. “We are confident that our combined strengths will deliver innovative, time-saving solutions to meet the needs of our customers and their communities.”
The ultimate goal of Wingcopter and Spright’s partnership is to instantly deliver medical supplies to rural, underserved and hard-to-reach communities. Those include things like personal protective equipment, medications, lab samples, vaccines and blood samples.
To facilitate deliveries, Spright will deploy the Wingcopter 198 drone, Wingcopter’s flagship model. The aircraft is capable of traveling up to 68 miles at speeds approaching 90 mph, with the ability to carry up to 13 pounds of payload. It’s also electric-powered, which enables zero-emissions operations.
To get the project off the ground, Spright is collaborating with one of its clients, Hutchinson Regional Health System in Hutchinson, Kansas, for initial testing. Wingcopter and Spright plan to expand the service across the U.S. this year.
“This multimillion-dollar commercial agreement with Spright is clear proof that the Wingcopter 198 has a perfect product-market fit. We are proud to enable large-scale drone delivery across the United States with this strong partnership,” said Tom Plümmer, co-founder and CEO of Wingcopter. “The projected compound annual growth rate for the drone delivery market of more than 50% to a total volume of almost $40 billion in 2030 underlines the rapid adoption of eVTOL technology for last-mile logistics. We are happy to be at the forefront of this fast-growing market together with Spright.”
Monday’s agreement further solidifies Wingcopter’s recent partnership with Air Methods, announced in August. So far, Spright has supported Wingcopter as it works toward an FAA unmanned aircraft systems type-certification, which would signify that its aircraft comply with airworthiness standards and open the company up to more commercial operations. Wingcopter has also drawn upon Spright’s experience operating FAA 121 and 135 air carriers, which allow for scheduled and on-demand air services, respectively.
With the rollout of a new medical drone delivery network, Wingcopter will compete with Zipline, the Bay Area-based company that’s been working on humanitarian drone deliveries for nearly a decade and recently began medical drone deliveries in Utah. So far, Zipline is one of the only companies to build a medical drone delivery presence in the U.S., leaving plenty of room for Wingcopter and Spright to carve out their own niche.
The companies will showcase the Wingcopter 198 drone at the Manifest logistics technology conference in Las Vegas from Jan. 25 to 27.