Michigan Medicine deploys autonomous drones for prescription drug delivery

Ann Arbor, Michigan (WXYZ) — Upon opening in 2024, Michigan Medicine’s new specialty pharmacy facility on Dexter’s Joy Road will offer the state’s first prescription delivery system. Using a fully electric autonomous drone.

The medical system has partnered with Zipline, a drone manufacturer and operator that has already streamlined the delivery of blood and COVID vaccines in Rwanda and Ghana.

In the US, ziplines operate in Utah, North Carolina, and Arkansas. The pilot program at U of M is the first in Michigan.

The drone will dock at the Joy Road facility and fly to deliver prescription drugs within a 10-mile radius.

“Right now, we’re shipping medications with ice packs in Styrofoam,” said Dana Habers, chief operating officer of pharmacy services at U of M. “Delivery by drone is done within 15 minutes, so instead of packing medicine for a 48-hour journey, we may be able to limit and use even less ice packs and Styrofoam. ‘ she said.

Optional services aim not only to reduce emissions, but also to shorten delivery times. Harbors said Zipline prescriptions are delivered to him within 10 to 15 minutes.

In a patient survey conducted by Michigan Medicine, 30% said they would consider using a drone delivery service.

Habers said the service will be free to patients and will cost the healthcare system less than current delivery trucks.

7 Action News spoke to some people who live in downtown Dexter to see how they feel about the concept.

“I think it’s great,” said Neil Dolhop.

Tom Garcia also likes this idea.

“There is a blizzard and you can’t go out, you’re sick and you can’t leave the house, you don’t have family around… this could be an alternative,” he said.

But Tom also shared concerns.

“Probably too much of these would be air pollution,” he told Action News.

The initial fleet will be up to 12 people, but Habers said it will grow as more patients opt in.

Unlike most drones, Zipline’s machine’s noticeable hum is not a problem, Habers said. She recently visited one of the company’s facilities in California and could barely hear the device, she said.

The company reports they’ve been mostly silent, touting the drone’s ability to deliver to very specific locations.

“Platform 2 is accurate enough to deliver to someone’s patio table or doorstep,” Zipline Chief Regulatory Officer Connor French said last week when speaking about the program’s launch. told reporters via

The Zipline Drone deploys a mooring compartment where prescription drugs are stored. That box then returns to a larger or so-called mother drone.

Standing outside the Joy Road facility, which is currently under construction, he said, “From a security standpoint, you can actually see the packages very well after they leave the building here.

With Michigan’s harsh winters and overall bad weather, such as wind and ice, Habers said ziplines are in the works.

“We were doing extensive testing. Zipline has been to Utah and other parts of the country,” she said.

This includes flights in North Dakota. The company claims to be ready for Michigan weather and is expected to be tested when the facility opens in 2024 and the drone makes its first flight.

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