The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) is leading a team of private companies that propose to set up a network of distribution centers that would use unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to make medical deliveries throughout the state.
Currently, drone delivery companies, including Matternet and Zipline, perform this service overseas but not in the United States. In Zurich, Switzerland, Matternet and Mercedes-Benz have partnered on a pilot project using drones to shuttle parcels of up to four pounds from a distribution center to vans that are parked at one of four rendezvous points around the city. The vans have a special landing zone on their roof which allows the drone to set down and drop off its payload. The driver of the vehicle then delivers the package to a customer. Matternet is also using drones to ship medical supplies between hospitals, flying deliveries over densely populated areas and using automated landing stations to accept packages and release them to approved recipients. The Silicon Valley–based robotics firm Zipline partnered with the Rwandan government in Africa to deliver blood to hospitals in remote areas. The time needed to procure blood has dropped from four hours to 15 minutes.
The NCDOT proposal is part of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Drone Integration Pilot Program which is testing drones for various purposes to help determine how to safely expand the use of commercial drones in the U.S.
“We’re really excited that drone technology may allow doctors and hospitals to save more lives in North Carolina soon,” Bobby Walston, the state director of aviation, said. “We’ve been researching and investing in drone technology for years at NCDOT. This proposal represents the next big step for us as we remain a national leader in the UAS field.”