Drone deliveries are making their case in a crisis

With the coronavirus pandemic forcing people to spend most of their time indoors and, when possible, maintain social distancing, and with companies instituting numerous measures to minimize the threat and spread of infection, there has to be a safer and quicker method of exchanging goods and services.

The good news is, there is one, and it comes in the form of drones. In a time of crisis, the operators of commercial drones are excited to step forward and show how drones can be beneficial to society.

Matternet, for example, is ahead of the crowd in the U.S. Last month, UPS announced that its Flight Forward subsidiary would use Matternet M2 drones to deliver prescriptions from a CVS pharmacy to The Villages retirement community in Florida, one of the largest retirement communities in the country.

“They basically have a city,” Matternet Founder and CEO Andreas Raptopoulos told Engadget. This means the company can have a large impact with a single pickup and drop-off point. Raptopoulos hopes the program will expand to three pharmacies and support multiple routes from each one. And while “last mile” delivery at The Villages is currently being done by a delivery driver on a golf cart, he wants to reach a point where the drones can hover and lower packages at residents’ doorsteps.

Matternet is starting with 10 to 20 deliveries a day, but the hope is that the company can facilitate many more deliveries, maybe even into the thousands. “If we can prove the model with one [store] and we see value there, and the economics are working out, then it can be rolled out to multiple [locations],” Raptopoulos said.

This isn’t Matternet’s first healthcare delivery program. In March 2017, Swiss Post and Matternet started transporting lab samples between two hospitals in Switzerland. And in August 2018, the company performed some test flights at a WakeMed facility with North Carolina’s Department of Transportation. Several months later, Matternet partnered with UPS for the first time, and the delivery program the two companies are operating is still happening; they have used the company’s M2 drones to transport more than 3,000 medical samples and specimens.

The North Carolina DOT said last month that Matternet, alongside UPS and an unnamed hospital in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, have proposed a drone program that would deliver medicine, personal protective equipment, and other healthcare supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic. The company has also spoken with laboratories to see if its drones could help deliver COVID-19 test supplies.

Other drone companies are also proving their worth. Everdrone has announced a drone program that would bring automated external defibrillators to people in Gothenberg, Sweden, who have gone into cardiac arrest. And drone operator Zipline is delivering PPE and other medical supplies to medical professionals in Ghana.

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