Imagine being hurt and stuck in an inaccessible, mountainous area where you are hiking. You suddenly hear a whirring sound and a small 25-pound aircraft drops off life-saving medical supplies!
This fantasy may soon become reality, as researchers and companies around the world are testing drone technology for various applications. These unmanned aerial vehicles (known as UAV) are already being used by private companies for film production, construction, agriculture, and security.
On April 23, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) gave permission to Wing to deliver packages via drones. Wing is a unit of Google’s parent company, Alphabet and is the first company in the United States to receive authorization to use drones to deliver items.
Drones Save Lives
In many parts of the world, drones are already being used as delivery tools. To learn more about drones, read our earlier article here as well as this fascinating set of articles in our expert series.
In the African nation of Ghana, drones are used to deliver vaccines and blood. It generally takes two hours to transport medicines from the medical store to one of Ghana’s Tafo Government Hospital. But drones can do this job much faster by dropping off the vaccines in a parachute in just 21 minutes!
For people in remote and isolated areas, drones are becoming the fastest way to transport medicines and supplies. The island nation of Vanuatu in the Pacific Ocean is piloting the use of drones to deliver vaccines to remote areas -- and a one-year-old baby has become the first recipient of a drone-delivered vaccine.
Drones are helping deliver organs used for transplants in the U.S too. The survival of a patient depends on how quickly the organs are transported and transplanted. Just last month, for the first time, a drone delivered a kidney from a donor to a critically-ill recipient at the University of Maryland's Medical Center, three miles away.
Wing has already conducted many test flights in Australia. It has delivered food and other items to houses in Canberra, Australia. Wing’s drones are capable of flying autonomously, but there are still pilots on the ground who can take control of the drone in case of an emergency.
Despite Wing’s accomplishments in Australia, drone delivery faces challenges in the United States. Drones must be able to carry packages while safely avoiding airports, low-flying helicopters, and pedestrians. Therefore, Wing will test its drones in parts of Virginia as those places are less populated than other areas in the United States. Additionally, Wing has announced that it plans to launch a delivery trial later in the year.
While there are still many hurdles to be crossed, drone delivery is getting closer to reality!
Sources: NBCNews, The Verge, NYTimes, QZ, Space.com, Guardian