Medicine delivered by drone in Virginia

A drone delivered medicine to a remote clinic in Virginia on Friday, July 17, marking what Virginia Senator Mark R. Warner characterized as “a real ‘Kitty Hawk’ moment for the unmanned systems industry.”

Warner’s reference to the North Carolina beach where the Wright brothers made the world’s first powered flight may overstate the significance of the event. The crash of quadcopter carrying methamphetamine in San Ysidro, Mexico, near the US border, in January and multiple reports of drones carrying contraband into prisons indicate that drug delivery by drone isn’t a novel or untested concept.

Arguably, Friday’s flight, organized by the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership in conjunction with Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, marked what The Wall Street Journal described as “the first government-approved drone delivery in the U.S.”

The wording of that claim, however, is questionable. Drone deliveries approved by the US government have been happening for years. But these involve the delivery of explosive military payloads outside the US.

Facing pressure from companies like Amazon and Google, both of which have been testing drones outside the US as a way to carry goods to consumers, the FAA is hoping to finalize commercial drone regulation before June 17, 2016. Presently, the agency is authorizing commercial drone flights and research on a case-by-case basis. That’s what happened in Virginia last week.

Friday’s delivery occurred within the US, and was authorized, but as Eleanor Nelsen, communications manager for the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science at Virginia Tech, indicated in an email, “… the FAA does not, currently, approve drone deliveries at all.” Instead, the agency approves the use of drones for “government purposes,” which includes research. The approved research in this case happened to involve a drone delivering medicine.Read more


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