An unmanned aircraft successfully delivered multiple packages of pharmaceuticals to an outdoor free clinic in Virginia yesterday, marking the first time medical supplies have been delivered by a drone. NASA assisted the unmanned aircraft system (UAS) designed by the start-up company Flirtey Inc. from a portable ground station.
The supplies made their way from Tazewell County in south-west Virginia to the Lonesome Pine Airport in Wise County, Virginia, where the clinic that reportedly serves over 1500 patients is located. The aircraft would usually have a safety pilot on board, however for the purpose of testing the technology it was completely unmanned.
“This first unmanned aerial delivery gave us the chance to do some critical research and mission exploration with our Cirrus SR22,” said Frank Jones, NASA’s deputy director of Langley’s Research Services Directorate. “We flew the aircraft remotely beyond visual line of sight for the first time from a portable ground station. This allowed us to demonstrate a new capability that we can use to test unmanned mission concepts and aircraft technologies in a remote location.”
The research team divided the 10 pounds of supplies into 24 smaller packages which were delivered over the course of multiple flights spanning over two hours. A pilot on the ground team oversaw the drone’s flight and lowered the pharmaceuticals to the ground by tether for the clinic’s health care professionals to receive.
It’s certainly a step in the right direction in terms of utilizing these aircrafts for charitable causes, with Viriginia Senator Mark R. Warner adding that “These flights highlight the humanitarian possibilities of this technology.” It may only be a number of years until all deliveries are done by autonomous drones.