The American company Zipline, specialized in the construction of delivery drones, has begun to deliver medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) to Novant Health frontline medical teams in the Charlotte, North Carolina, metro area. The operation helps position Novant Health to adapt quickly to the evolving pandemic and could lead to innovative uses such as testing, drug trials, and vaccine distribution in the future.
The delivery drones collect medical supplies from Novant Health warehouses and transport them to their nearby hospitals. Upon arrival at the destination, they drop the packages by parachute. Zipline devices can carry almost 1.8 kg of cargo and fly at speeds of up to 130 km/h (80 mph), even in rain or wind.
“Zipline has been hard at work helping other countries respond to the pandemic,” said Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo. “And we’re proud to partner with Novant Health, a true leader in health care innovation, to begin helping in the United States as well. We’re likely in for a long-term fight against COVID-19. Using contactless drone logistics will be an important tool in that effort. The work underway here in North Carolina will provide the rest of the country with a blueprint for how to build the most resilient and responsive health care system possible.”
Zipline is currently approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) only for two routes between 30 and 50 km (20 and 30 miles) long. However, their drones are capable of covering distances of up to 160 km (100 miles), which means that they could reach at least 30 more Novant Health centers.
Zipline and Novant Health are not the only North American companies that resort to the use of drones for this type of task. In April, the CVS pharmacy chain began using Matternet’s unmanned aircraft to deliver medications to a retirement community in the state of Florida.
However, unlike Zipline, Matternet’s drones do not transport packages directly to their final destination, but instead, take them to a collection point, then they are collected by the authorized user.