The first legal drone delivery in the United States went off without a hitch (watch it below) as Flirtey, an Australian drone-delivery startup, delivered 24 medical packages from an airfield to a nearby medical clinic.
The Flirtey drone made flights from Lonesome Pine Airport to the Remote Area Hospital in Wise County, Virginia, which is one of the most impoverished area’s in the country. The clinic treats hundreds of uninsured residents each summer, and it often takes 90 minutes for supplies to be delivered by cars, which have to drive over rough, broken down roads.
The Flirtey drone flew three 3-minute flights and delivered 10 pounds of medicine to the clinic, showing the potential for using drones to deliver goods to remote areas. It used a custom, 3D-printed tether to lower the medicine to the ground.
“Proving that unmanned aircraft can deliver lifesaving medicines is an important step toward a future where unmanned aircraft make routine autonomous deliveries of your everyday purchases,” says Flirtey chief executive Matt Sweeney in a statement.
Flirtey already conducts drone deliveries in New Zealand. Meanwhile in the US, the FAA is currently working on a set of rules to safely integrate commercial drone flights into the skies.
As The Verge points out, “the major difference between this delivery and the ambitious plan proposed by Amazon for Prime Air is that Flirtey was flying over very sparsely populated land.” So how long will it be until the FAA allows operations over populated areas? Sweeney says it’ll happen within two years.
“In circumstances with traffic congestion like this, or over rugged terrain, or in emergency scenarios like Katrina, drone delivery provides the fastest and most reliable method of delivery of emergency supplies,” Sweeney says.
Google was recently granted a patent for a fleet of ambulance drones that will deliver medical supplies such as first aid kits, defibrillators or EpiPens to people in emergency situations. According to the patent, each drone within the fleet would be different to accommodate a number of medical emergencies “such as choking, cardiac arrest, shock, asthma, drowning, etc.”