The first-ever drone delivery to legally occur in the U.S. took place last Friday, and it wasn’t by Amazon. The drone delivered much-needed medical supplies to a pop-up health facility located in a remote rural area of Wise County, VA. The event sets a precedent for future medical care packages to be distributed via drone, where a lack of roads might encumber timely deliveries or traditional transportation has been wiped out entirely.
Startup Flirtey, NASA, and Virginia Tech worked together to orchestrate this event under extremely strict and safe conditions that were fully compliant with the FAA’s requests. The flight was successful in delivering 60 pounds in antibiotics, and other pharmaceuticals over a 35-mile span in three three-minute trips, which would have been a 90-minute trip by road.
"We foresee not just medicines, but delivering small amounts of food and water to people that are isolated in emergency situations," said Jon Greene, associate director of the mid-Atlantic aviation partnership at Virginia Tech, a partner in the event.
This demonstration was a special case, and the ban on drone deliveries won’t be lifted any time soon according to the FAA, but the test flight illustrates a possible future use case outside of the popularized package delivery system proposed by Amazon.
Outside the U.S., DHL in Germany and GeoPost in France began testing UAV package delivery systems as early as last year, and the Swiss postal service is slated to test deliveries by drones by the end of this month.