Novant Health and California based UAV delivery startup, Zipline have launched drone delivery of personal protective gear and medical equipment to hospitals in North Carolina. The firm will be allowed to use drones on two specified routes after the Federal Aviation Administration granted it an emergency waiver.
The most important aspect of these deliveries is that amid the COVID-19 pandemic they are completely contactless. Not only this but this drone delivery is the first emergency drone logistics operation in the US to help hospitals during the Covid-19 pandemic, and it’s also the longest-range drone delivery service that’s been approved in the country.
Novant Health, the nonprofit organization that runs a hospital and hundreds of other facilities in the Southeast, is the first hospital system to be granted a drone operator permit from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Zipline, the medical product delivery company’s CEO Keller Rinaudo said in a statement, “The world in for a long-term fight against Covid-19. Using contactless drone logistics will be an important tool in that effort. The work underway here in North Carolina will provide the rest of the country with a blueprint for how to build the most resilient and responsive health care system possible.”
Zipline is using a set of completely autonomous fixed-wing drones to deliver 1.8 kilograms of cargo up to about 80 kilometers away. It drops the cargo via parachute and then returns to base. The drone service is delivering medical supplies to Novant Health’s Huntersville Medical Center from a depot in Kannapolis, North Carolina. Once the drones reach their destination, they drop the supplies via parachutes and the staff at the center does not need any additional infrastructure or employees to receive deliveries.
So far the drone delivery has been slowly growing, but the Covid-19 pandemic crisis is helping it pick up the pace. Several other drone delivery companies and Zipline have been working with FAA on small scale pilot projects in the past few years, but progress was slow however, the pandemic has put additional medical pressure to up the process.
Novant and Zipline have high hope to get permission from the FAA to serve health facilities as well as hospitals as a full commercial service.
As per the company, the partnership in North Carolina is the first step toward a larger emergency medical network. This is not new for the company as in the year 2016, Zipline started delivering blood in Rwanda, and in the year 2019, it expanded operations to Ghana.
Zipline and Novant Health aren’t the only companies to be using drones to deliver medical supplies in North America. Recently UPS and CVS started using Matternet’s M2 drones to deliver prescription medication to a retirement community in Florida. Alphabet’s Wing is also currently conducting drone deliveries in Virginia, despite the fact that these deliveries consist of household items and not medicines or medical equipment.
Zipline feels that drone deliveries will be extremely helpful once a vaccine for the novel Coronavirus is ready. The company feels that if at all the vaccine begins distribution by early next year, it will be in short supply. However, an active drone delivery network already in place, like Zipline networks, running in Ghana and Rwanda, could help speedup contactless deliveries to areas where vaccines are most needed.