Like so many of the healthcare workers who are fighting a battle of life or death against the Covid-19 crisis, many other industries, companies and individuals are earnestly seeking creative ways to support the heroic efforts of those on the front lines, where the battle rages most intensely.
The United Parcel Service (UPS), Workhorse Group, the Virginia Center for Innovative Technology, and DroneUp, have formed a recent partnership using drones to deliver medical supplies, considered by many to be something that might happen in the future.
DroneUp is a company based in Virginia Beach that is ahead of many other companies in using drones to solve problems and find practical solutions. This company held a three-day simulation (April 7th to April 9th) with its partners to collect data and evaluate the capability of the industry in using unmanned aerial systems (UAVs) to deliver testing and treatment of the coronavirus as part of the response.
The founder and CEO of DroneUp, Tom Walker, said the coronavirus pandemic has brought the possibility of drone delivery to the industry’s point of discussion:
“The use of drones, specifically by commercial operators, in response to crisis events, has been a point of discussion for some time, and COVID-19 brought the topic to the forefront. While many in the industry offered ideas or theories, no exercise had ever [been] conducted using commercial operators and readily available drone platforms with actual and actionable data. That was our mission. We conducted delivery of supplies at scale in a challenging, real-world environment throughout multiple days AND nights.”*
A team of 45 people were involved in the operation to test the drone delivery in the same conditions as in an urban setting. The abandoned campus of Saint Paul’s College in Lawrenceville, Virginia, “provided an ideal facility,” according to Tom Walker.
This period of testing carefully considered the safety of the participants. They wore masks, had their temperatures taken and a nurse was present. Eight drone pilots, certified by the Federal Aviation Administration, were selected out of a group of 32 applicants, and all flew the commercial DJI Inspire 2 unmanned aircraft.
Virtually all packages (80 out of 81) were successfully delivered with no safety incidents reported. The only aborted mission involved high winds, where the pilot and his team decided to abort the flight due to unsafe weather conditions in an effort to err on the side of caution.
Tom Walker’s company, DroneUp, offers drone data services with credible experience such as contracts with state and local governments. He puts it well in stating the following
“DroneUp was perfectly positioned to pioneer this project because we combine a vetted drone network with an experienced R&D department that has been a leader in developing new uses of drone technology.”*
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam offered the following confirming statement:
“I am encouraged to see so many private sector partners stepping up and thinking innovatively as we work together to combat COVID-19. Drones can be an important way to deliver medical supplies while people stay home to adhere to our social distancing guidelines. Virginia is well-positioned to be a leader in the unmanned system industry, and we are pleased to be part of this initiative.”
The FAA awarded a certification that allows for drone delivery on medical campuses to UPS in 2019. Thus UPS became the first commercial drone delivery service company in the U.S.
Rebecca Kesten, “UPS and DroneUp team up to test drone delivery of medical supplies” (Fox News)