Drone Delivery Operations: Medical and Food Delivery in North Carolina

by Basil Yap, UAS Program Manager, North Carolina Department of Transportation – Division of Aviation

On a warm summer day in August 2018, public and private officials gathered on the campus of WakeMed Health & Hospitals in Raleigh, N.C., to watch history in the making – the first medical package delivery over people using an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) in the United States.

A month later, dramatic imagery captured by drones during the state’s first coordinated drone disaster response showed the public and the world the devastation occurring in eastern North Carolina from Hurricane Florence and helped guide response and recovery efforts.

North Carolina, at the forefront of aviation since the Wright Brothers made manned aircraft history at Kitty Hawk in 1903, stepped into the aviation history books again these past couple of years– pioneering the frontiers of unmanned aviation, advising national standards and rules, and driving innovation in the safe and beneficial use of drones.

All of this has been the result of the UAS Program Office found within the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT).

This presentation will cover North Carolina’s participation in the Federal Aviation Administration UAS Integration Pilot Program.

As part of national initiative that is informing drone use, policy and regulation the Federal Aviation Administration in May 2018 selected the NCDOT team as one of only 10, out of 149 applicants, across the country piloting specific uses of drones. The 10 teams provide FAA knowledge and recommendations needed to craft rules and regulations that will shape drone adoption across the country.

NCDOT completed the nation’s first medical package delivery over people using a drone in August 2018 and in March 2019 started the nation’s first routine medical package delivery of specimens in a hospital system.

NCDOT focused its pilot on medical package delivery because of its high-potential for early adoption, based on a NASA market study in which the N.C. team participated. The pilot also includes the related area of food package delivery. In 2018, FAA added transportation infrastructure inspection to the N.C. pilot following DoA’s innovative use of drones to monitor transportation infrastructure and aid emergency response during Hurricane Florence.

The NCDOT has partnered with leaders in this space including Apple, AirMap, Flytrex, Matternet, PrecisionHawk, UPS and Zipline.

program: https://unmannedcargoaircraftconference.com/program/

Interview

What drives you?
I’m driven by a desire to help enable an innovate technology that has the potential to change how we view aviation. I’m also driven by the challenge that comes with incorporating unmanned aircraft into the safest and most regulated transportation system in the world.

Why should the delegate attend your presentation?
North Carolina has taken concepts and demonstrations and has begun to operationalize them within the state. The presentation includes an overview of current medical and food drone delivery operations in the state. I’ll cover how we have engaged with the community, addressed “detect and avoid”, developed business cases and started building an Unmanned Traffic Management system.

What emerging technologies/trends do you see as having the greatest potential in the short and long run?
Our greatest need in the short term is a fully functional detect and avoid solution on unmanned aircraft to help address “see and avoid” which is a requirement to operation beyond visual line of sight in the United States. This has been a real struggle for the Federal Aviation Administration to understand how they will certify or vet this technology. “Remote ID” will be one step closer to building a robust Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM). In addition, we have often overlooked weather and the the impact it has on smaller UAS operations. The ability to model micro climates and incorporate the data into UTM systems will give pilots better decision making tools and ultimately enable more routine operations.

What kind of impact do you expect them to have?
Everyday I am learning a new way UAS is improving healthcare outcomes, providing an efficiency or making a task safer. I don’t think we can fully comprehend the impact autonomous UAS will have on our lives. I’m excited to part of the beginning of this journey.

What are the barriers that might stand in the way?
Ultimately public acceptance will be key to enabling the full potential of unmanned air cargo. The public needs to recognize not just the risk but also the tremendous benefits. Public acceptance will drive regulators to fully integrate UAS into our communities.

“Special Quote”
If the past few years have taught us anything it is that we are just scratching the surface of the tremendous benefits unmanned aircraft provide to our communities. We are experiencing one of the greatest technological innovations in aviation since the impact of the jet engine.

About Basil Yap

Basil Yap serves as program manager for the N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) Division of Aviation’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Program. In this role, he leads, envisions and directs efforts that position North Carolina as a global leader in UAS (drone) safety, government integration, commercial and economic development, and knowledge creation. That includes ensuring North Carolina maintains the nation’s best drone safety record; maximizes state and local agency use of UAS technology to improve public services and operations; builds a world-leading UAS economy; pursues research and innovations that promote drone safety, government integration and commercial development; and designs and advocates for supportive public policies on the local, state and federal level. He also serves as UAS subject matter expert and advisor for North Carolina industries and state government.

Among Mr. Yap’s accomplishments are working with the North Carolina legislature to establish UAS- specific laws addressing safety and privacy, establishing the NCDOT UAS Program Office, creating and managing the N.C. UAS knowledge test and permitting system, proposing and leading the state’s Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP), leading NCDOT’s Hurricane Florence UAS response, and creating and managing the state’s unmanned traffic management (UTM) system.

About North Carolina Department of Transportation – Division of Aviation

The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) is responsible for building, repairing, and operating highways, bridges, and other modes of transportation, including aviation in the U.S. state of North Carolina.

The Division of Aviation’s mission is to promote the economic well being of North Carolina through air transportation system development and improved aviation safety and education. Included in their mission is to support the integration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

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