In-Depth: Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) introduced this bill to allow drones’ use for medical supply delivery. John Walker, an aerospace consultant who spent 32 years at the FAA, believes early acceptance of drone delivery networks in urban areas will revolve around hospitals, with drones being used to safely and reliably carry blood and medical supplies.
Andrew Schroeder, director of research and analysis at humanitarian aid organization Direct Relief, says he expects drones will be used to get medicine to remote locations that are otherwise only reachable by helicopter, or that are cut off due to natural disasters:
“As drone technology and systems for managing them improve, we expect them to save lives in places where disasters have cut off access to critically needed healthcare.”
Zipline, a California-based medical drone startup, has already successfully deployed its drones in Rwanda and Tanzania. Its founder and chief engineer, Keenan Wyrobek, believes his company’s technology will eventually be deployed in the U.S., as well. Being aerial, Zipline’s drones are able to deliver medical supplies to flooded areas, islands, and other places that cars — currently the main transportation method for medical supplies — can’t reach.
In October 2017, the Dept. of Transportation (DOT) invited state and local governments to partner with universities and companies on tests to speed drones’ integration into U.S. airspace. The proposals included a range of health-related applications.
Of Note: Drones have been successfully used to carry blood, medical supplies, and medical supplies in other countries, including Rwanda, Tanzania, Switzerland, and Ghana. In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico has also begun testing drones’ use for emergency medical supply delivery. Beginning in 2019, the UK will also be testing new civilian uses of drones, potentially including medical supply delivery, in five towns and cities.
The FAA has been cautious about approving drone operations in the U.S. due to concerns about overcrowding already-congested airspace. Susan Roberts, co-founder of AiRXOS, a GE subsidiary focused on drone infrastructure technologies, observes that the FAA seems to be interested in building an integrated approach to drones’ use in the U.S., ensuring that operations are scalable once deployed.
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / PeterTG)