For drone deliveries, the sky's the limit

Source: Supply Chain Dive | Chris Teale | November 12, 2018

Medical and package deliveries are key, while some cities participating in a new program by the Federal Aviation Administration are looking to logistics and border control.

As cities across the U.S. look to reduce congestion on their streets, more are taking deliveries and safety initiatives to the skies, with a new drone initiative from the federal government helping drive those efforts.

In May, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced 10 selectees for its Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program (IPP). And of those honorees, many are looking at projects that will help reduce traffic congestion on city streets and enable governments and private companies to explore how drones can be used to make everyday life more efficient.

"Data gathered from these pilot projects will form the basis of a new regulatory framework to safely integrate drones into our national airspace," Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said in a statement when the 10 participants were announced.

In an October 2017 presidential memorandum directing federal agencies to establish the three-year IPP, President Donald Trump called for “a coordinated effort” between the private sector and governments at the state, local and tribal level to allow for the sharing of best practices between the 10 final projects.

It also allows flexibility on FAA restrictions on drones, meaning in these projects they can be flown beyond the visual line of sight, over people, or at night — options that currently are not permitted by law but can be waived for IPP participants.

Already, testing has begun, with companies like AirMap and other private sector partners providing traffic management and software among other services.

"The huge benefit of the IPP is allowing private sector companies to enter partnerships with state, local and tribal governments to perform these types of operations and to show the risk mitigation strategies to the FAA to help inform the regulatory process,” Sezen Jones, director of public policy at AirMap, told Smart Cities Dive.

On-demand transport for medical supplies

An area of drone research already making strides is the delivery of medical supplies; not only delivering equipment but also samples for testing in laboratories. Reno, NV conducted a test in September to deliver multiple automated external defibrillators as part of its IPP participation in partnership with drone company Flirtey.

In San Diego, another of the IPP awardees, one problem that the city and medical community has run into is the need to transport samples between the laboratory and the testing site. Not only do the couriers’ vans clog streets, but they also need to be carrying a certain number of samples to make a trip financially viable, meaning some may wait hours before testing.

"With medical specimen transport, we found that a lot of hospitals either don't have labs within their complex or they don't have sufficient lab capacity to process all the medical samples that they take: blood, urine, any kind of biological samples they might take," San Diego’s Senior Homeland Security Coordinator Tiffany Vinson told Smart Cities Dive. "So the hospitals wait until they have enough samples from multiple patients in order to justify sending a courier out, because every time you send a courier out it costs you."

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Chelsea Collier