Collaborators seek ways to support US Coronavirus response amid social distancing protocols
DroneUp recently partnered with UPS and subsidiary UPS Flight Forward (UPSFF) with Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology (CIT), and Workhorse Group in tests designed to determine how unmanned aerial systems can assist medical professionals in their fight to stop the spread of the Coronavirus.
As healthcare practitioners nationwide and around the world race to contain the virus and save lives, time is of the essence. Experts in the healthcare industry and in government are calling for technology solutions that can speed the pace of testing and treatment for infected patients. They also express concern for healthcare providers on the front lines who interact with potentially infected patients on a daily basis. Technology leaders see autonomous drones as a potentially valuable solution.
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“I am encouraged to see so many private sector partners stepping up and thinking innovatively as we work together to combat COVID-19,” said Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. “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 tests in Virginia evaluated the commercial drone industry’s ability to provide and scale small unmanned aerial systems to support various use cases to speed and assist the U.S. healthcare system during the novel Coronavirus crisis.
“We’ve proven through ongoing commercial drone delivery programs that effective drone delivery of medical products is faster than conventional ground-based transportation,” said Scott Price, UPS chief strategy and transformation officer. “Drones offer a low-touch option for delivery of lab specimens and medical products that could make a significant impact in an urgent response application.”
Data collected during this fast-paced simulation will be used to determine how private-sector drone operators can effectively supplement emergency response and certain patient care. The findings and recommendations will be included in a report to the White House, where leaders are considering what role the nascent industry could play in the Coronavirus response.
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“Many in the public – along with federal, state and local officials – are asking how drones can be used in this time of crisis,” said Tom Walker, DroneUp CEO. “Rather than speculate, it is incumbent upon our industry to conduct operationally-based exercises that produce factual data and lessons learned to ensure we can respond safely, effectively and efficiently when called upon. Data collected now will impact our capabilities beyond the COVID-19 outbreak we are currently facing.”
The test participants conducted exercises over three days earlier this month on the vacant campus of St. Paul’s College, in Lawrenceville, Virginia. The Brunswick County facility, which closed to the public in 2013, provided a safe, complex community environment to test package deliveries by drones under a variety of conditions. The exercises focused on delivery to residential and commercial areas with the aim of determining the following:
- Safe operational capacities based on existing technologies, policies, personnel and environmental restrictions
- Airspace de-confliction and operator safety policies necessary for peak optimal capacity
- Processes, policies and training necessary to conduct efficient, safe and effective delivery operations during day and night
- Proposed policy changes that would further enable the use of these autonomous airborne advanced technologies
Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology (CIT), a nonprofit corporation, has been Virginia’s primary driver of innovation and entrepreneurship since 1985. Virginia’s commitment to unmanned system innovation led to the development of The Virginia Unmanned Systems center at CIT to support this rapidly growing and innovative industry.
“Our thoughts are with those who have been most affected by this crisis, said Ed Albrigo, CIT President and CEO. “CIT is committed to exploring innovative responses to the COVID -19 pandemic including emergency package delivery by drones. We appreciate the willingness of DroneUp, UPS, and Workhorse to be part of the solution.”
“We’re proud to be able to help through the use of our drone technology and aerospace team in this crisis,” said Duane Hughes, Workhorse Group CEO. “We’ve made hundreds of autonomous drone deliveries in the National Airspace System over the last four years using our proprietary technology combined with our all-electric delivery vehicles. We have a comprehensive understanding of the benefits provided by a drone delivery when speed counts. The people of Workhorse are ready to help through these trying times in any way we can.”
Last year, UPS initiated the first ongoing revenue-generating drone delivery service at WakeMed’s flagship hospital and the campus in Raleigh, N.C. UPS also established UPS Flight Forward, which later earned the Federal Aviation Administration’s standard Part 135 Standard certification to operate a drone airline. UPS has worked with innovative drone technology partners and aviation regulators for years to advance the use of drones for delivery.
DroneUp provides end-to-end aerial data collection services for its clients. The company also qualifies and deploys drone pilots to serve a variety of commercial industries. Workhorse makes electrically powered utility and delivery vehicles, including drones. In 2017, UPS and Workhorse successfully tested delivery drones launched from the top of a UPS package delivery van.
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