Drone Delivers Medicine In Virginia - InformationWeek

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7/20/2015
04:06 PM
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Drone Delivers Medicine In Virginia

The delivery test is being compared to the historic first flight of the Wright brothers.

NASA's New Horizons Brings Pluto Into Focus
NASA's New Horizons Brings Pluto Into Focus
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

A drone delivered medicine to a remote clinic in Virginia on Friday, July 17, marking what Virginia Senator Mark R. Warner characterized as "a real 'Kitty Hawk' moment for the unmanned systems industry."

Warner's reference to the North Carolina beach where the Wright brothers made the world's first powered flight may overstate the significance of the event. The crash of quadcopter carrying methamphetamine in San Ysidro, Mexico, near the US border, in January and multiple reports of drones carrying contraband into prisons indicate that drug delivery by drone isn't a novel or untested concept.

Arguably, Friday's flight, organized by the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership in conjunction with Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, marked what The Wall Street Journal described as "the first government-approved drone delivery in the U.S."

The wording of that claim, however, is questionable. Drone deliveries approved by the US government have been happening for years. But these involve the delivery of explosive military payloads outside the US.

Facing pressure from companies like Amazon and Google, both of which have been testing drones outside the US as a way to carry goods to consumers, the FAA is hoping to finalize commercial drone regulation before June 17, 2016. Presently, the agency is authorizing commercial drone flights and research on a case-by-case basis. That's what happened in Virginia last week.

Friday's delivery occurred within the US, and was authorized, but as Eleanor Nelsen, communications manager for the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science at Virginia Tech, indicated in an email, "... the FAA does not, currently, approve drone deliveries at all." Instead, the agency approves the use of drones for "government purposes," which includes research. The approved research in this case happened to involve a drone delivering medicine.

(Image: NASA)

(Image: NASA)

Under an FAA-authorized flight plan for research, a full-sized plane operated by NASA's Langley Research Center and a hexacopter drone operated by a startup called Flirtey delivered 10 pounds of drugs (the legal variety) and other supplies to a medical clinic at the fairgrounds in Wise County, Virginia.

The free annual clinic, run by Remote Area Medical and the Health Wagon, typically provides healthcare services about 1,500 people.

Jon Greene, interim associate director of the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership, described the event in a video as an opportunity to meet real medical needs while at the same time meeting research goals that advance the integration of unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace and also enhancing industry and economic opportunity.

[Watch Chris Anderson talk about drones.]

NASA's plane, a fixed-wing Cirrus SR22, and the Flirtey drone shared the route. The plane, remotely piloted when outside the visual range of its NASA team and carrying a safety pilot for human-directed segments, flew medical supplies from an airport in Tazewell County, Virginia, to the Lonesome Pine Airport in Wise County.

(Image: Flirtey)

(Image: Flirtey)

From there, Flirtey representatives divided the supplies into 24 packages, to be transported from the airport to the clinic in multiple flights over the course of two hours.

"This is a Kitty Hawk moment not just for Flirtey, but for the entire industry," said Flirtey CEO Matt Sweeny in a statement.

(Image: Google)

(Image: Google)

Had Flirtey personnel elected to deliver the packages by car, the final leg of the journey would have taken about six minutes to cover the 2.3 miles from the airport to the clinic. But the project participants were there to test drones in scenarios where road transport wouldn't be an option.

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

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asksqn
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asksqn,
User Rank: Ninja
7/30/2015 | 3:20:45 PM
Bravo
This is only the second instance of drone usage that I can personally agree to the first being the planting of trees in decimated regions of the Amazon.  Finally, another use for drones that doesn't include spying on Americans and/or bombing the crap out of foreign countries by government.
kstaron
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kstaron,
User Rank: Ninja
7/30/2015 | 11:47:24 AM
Good use of drones
This is a great test of drones being used for general aide. Good to see they are developing ways to use drones to do things other than either spy on people or blow them up. On some of those mountain pass kind of roads, if something's blocked it you can'd go in by land. You mentioned it took 6 minutes by car. I'm curious, how long did it take by drone?
Gigi3
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Gigi3,
User Rank: Ninja
7/24/2015 | 4:36:38 AM
Re: Drone Delivers Medicine In Virginia
"These technological developments are a good solution for many applications including medical."

Mutuella, there are many good use cases are yet to exploit. But no doubt that it can enhance the reachability, especially where humans cannot reach for extending the help and speedy attention. 
Gigi3
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Gigi3,
User Rank: Ninja
7/24/2015 | 4:34:19 AM
Re: Licencing usage of Drone
"As useful as this will be in the US, imagine it's impact in more remote places around the world. The use of drones in protecting livestock and animals in nature reserves is awesome, but delivering much needed medicine to really remote areas could help stop the spread of diseases like Ebola in their tracks. "

Whoopty, you are right and talking only about its good use cases. What happens when it intrudes to someone's privacy?  Last week I heard in BBC that some border issues are happening between Pakistan and India about a Drone and its ownership. Later found that it's a Chinese made and sent from China to Pakistan.  Such issues or misuse can be happen in future too; which my end up in big border issues.
mutuelle
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mutuelle,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/21/2015 | 2:33:56 PM
Drone Delivers Medicine In Virginia
These technological developments are a good solution for many applications including medical.
Whoopty
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Whoopty,
User Rank: Ninja
7/21/2015 | 7:17:47 AM
Re: Licencing usage of Drone
As useful as this will be in the US, imagine it's impact in more remote places around the world. The use of drones in protecting livestock and animals in nature reserves is awesome, but delivering much needed medicine to really remote areas could help stop the spread of diseases like Ebola in their tracks. 
Gigi3
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0%
Gigi3,
User Rank: Ninja
7/21/2015 | 6:09:35 AM
Licencing usage of Drone
"Facing pressure from companies like Amazon and Google, both of which have been testing drones outside the US as a way to carry goods to consumers, the FAA is hoping to finalize commercial drone regulation before June 17, 2016"

Thomas, there is no doubt that Drone can be effectively used for delivery items to remote place in an effective and accurate way. Actually there should be some fair policy for using drones because possibilities of misuses are very high. It has to be controlled by licensing to certain companies or NGOs. 
nomii
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nomii,
User Rank: Ninja
7/20/2015 | 9:50:47 PM
A giant leap

It is very fascinating to know that. These drones will be extremely helpful in cases where there will be difficult human access or time factor is really great. But I still see it to take a long time before it will be available around the globe. The use of drones for multipurpose is a great thing but you can always feel something happening not very good. So strict rules and regulations and monitoring will be required to give a go ahead to these kind of projects.

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