The First Long-distance Drone Deliveries in the U.S. are Bringing PPE to Healthcare Workers

Drone Deliveries: Drones are making a tremendous difference in the lives of people!

In a hospital in Huntersville, North Carolina, when there is a need to quickly have their supplies of surgical masks and gowns replenished as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, they are now able to  request help and a drone is ready to bring what they need.

Novant Health is a nonprofit company that runs this hospital in Huntersville, as well as hundreds of other facilities in the Southeast. They became the first hospital system recently to be granted a drone operator permit from the FAA. This enables them to start their first long-range, and ongoing, drone deliveries in the U.S. This technology comes from Zipline, a startup that first launched its services in Africa several years ago.

Angela Yochem, executive vice president and chief digital and technology officer at Novant Health said, “We believe this will allow us to, in a very precise, on-demand way, get supplies to where they need to be exactly when they need to be there.”

The way this system works is that when operators at a hospital request a delivery, the drones will fly from a launchpad near the distribution center of the health system, and will hover above the delivery point, and then drop a package attached to a parachute before returning to the distribution center, in a 20-30 mile round trip.

Each drone carries about four pounds of supplies (about 150 masks, for example), but can quickly make several trips for larger deliveries. In Rwanda and Ghana, where the drone company Zipline first began making medical deliveries, the drones traveled as far as 100 miles round trip.

The organization has a well-tuned distribution system, and has calculated that even if coronavirus cases surge in the region, it has enough personal protective equipment to cover the need. However, it also wants to make sure they have other options, such as drones, if there is a crisis.

Matternet is another drone company that began shorter drone deliveries between medical centers in Raleigh, North Carolina, last year.

Alphabet’s drone delivery service, Wing, is yet another company that has been making deliveries of toilet paper and medicine in rural Virginia. Similar services are also expanding outside the U.S.

Although drone delivery had been slowly growing, the COVID-19 pandemic is helping it accelerate.


Zipline believes that drone service can be especially helpful when a vaccine becomes ready, it will very likely be in short supply and a national drone delivery network can make contactless deliveries to areas experiencing outbreaks where vaccines are most needed. Therefore, this partnership in North Carolina is the initial step toward a larger emergency medical network.

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