Drone Medical Supply Deliveries Will Soon Get Underway On Virginia’s Remote Eastern Shore 

A new drone medical supply delivery service is about to get underway along Virginia’s eastern shore where the remote area’s residents are in desperate need of blood pressure medicine but are difficult to reach by road vehicles.

The main sponsor of the program, Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital, has asked Drone Up, one of the nation’s best known aerial package delivery companies, to carry out the work.  Last week, a pilot demonstration of the service was conducted in the presence of key program stakeholders, including Virginia Tems, Inc., the Virginia Institute for Spaceflight and Autonomy, and the Virginia Innovation Partnership  Corporation.

The idea for drone deliveries arose spontaneously during a public presentation by Shore memorial’s vice president Sally Hartman on medical issues facing residents of the Eastern shore.  When she mentioned the hospital’s need for a solution to road accessibility problems in remote coastal areas, a representative from Drone Up piped up – and Hartman eagerly embraced the idea.

Riverside decided on the tiny community of Tangier after data revealed that older residents there were having trouble picking up or getting blood pressure prescriptions delivered on a regular basis.  The area consists of scattered island-like properties surrounded by water.  Roads exist but vehicles often must travel circuitous routes to get to and from the mainland – and some area residents no longer drive. due to their age.

Drone Up, which is based in nearby Virginia Beach, has extensive experience partnering with  Walmart on food package delivery in 34 sites in 6 states across the country, including most recently, in Virginia.  The 8 year old company maintains a fleet of drones that can carry packages weighing up to 10 pounds for distances of several miles.  The remotely-piloted drones are equipped with sensors that detect air and ground obstacles as they fly low over the terrain and then hover in place as their cargo is slowly lowered to the ground on a heavy steel cable to a designated drop zone, usually a parking space or open field.

Drone Up officials insist that their latest drones models can drop packages on the doorsteps of homes, as needed, which is likely to be the case in Tangier.  The company also prides itself on its brief delivery time (30 seconds maximum), and its ability to hover at a high enough altitude to limit noise intrusions from the drone’s rotors.  Cargo packages are released once they touch down, and drone up vehicles drones are pre-programmed to return home on a designated flight pattern once their delivery is made.

Drone Up isn’t the only US UAV company currently engaged in medical supply deliveries to remote areas.  Silicon Valley-based Zipline has been pioneering such operations in several African countries since 2016, and two years ago the company commenced medical supply deliveries to a handful of rural towns in North Carolina. It earlier began making deliveries to remote islands off the coast of Japan.  Last year, the company began working with hospitals to make medical supply deliveries in difficult-to-access mountainous areas surrounding Salt Lake City, Utah.

Drone-Up’s Tangier pilot program is expected to last 12-14 months but the company and Riverside hospital expect to expand to other remote areas further north, delivering additional types of medicines, as needed.

Drone-Up’s Chief Technology Officer John Vernon says “Drones for Good” was the company’s original motto and that he’s “thrilled” to be involved in a medical aid project that “has an impact on people’s lives in such a meaningful way.”

”While it’s great to deliver boxes of Oreos and other food items to people, this [project] is really back to the core of why we started [Drone Up] to begin with,” Vernon told project stakeholders last month.

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