Drones Tested for Coronavirus Response

BY: JEMS

Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) recently partnered with UPS’s drone delivery subsidiary UPS Flight Forward (UPSFF) and drone technology companies DroneUp 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.

Related: Complete COVID-19 Coverage from JEMS

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.

“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.

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“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.

“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.

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