Drone-Up’s New FAA Waiver Reflects a Shift Toward Diversification

Virginia based Drone-Up is the latest drone firm to receive an FAA BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) waiver allowing the company to make long distance aerial deliveries without the need for ground-based visual observers.  Several other UAV companies, including Wing and Zipline, received the same coveted waiver last September, which has allowed them to expand their operations into new locales in partnership with major restaurant and retail store chains, including Walmart and Walgreens.

All three companies – as well as UPS Flight Forward and Amazon – are now poised to take aerial drone deliveries to dramatic new heights in 2024, fulfilling a long-delayed vision for battery-power aircraft to begin replacing gas-powered road vehicles for both greater speed and enhanced sustainability.

Drone-Up, founded  in 2016, was thought to be in line to work with Walmart in the company’s rapidly expanding drone hub in metropolitan Dallas-Ft. Worth, with 1.8 million potential store customers.  The company is a partially owned Walmart subsidiary and is still Walmart’s main supplier in North Carolina and Arizona. But when approval of its new FAA BVLOS waiver was delayed, Walmart, which is anxious to diversify its suppliers, decided to turn to FAA-certified Wing and Zipline for support in Texas.

Drone-Up and Walmart may have other joint plans in mind. For months, the Virginia-based company has been shifting its focus away from retail food and store deliveries toward medical supply flights.  Last June, Drone-Up partnered with Carilion Clinic, a not-for-profit healthcare organization based in Roanoke, to explore how drones could be used to improve healthcare delivery throughout Virginia and beyond.   The company is also exploring a separate medical supply partnership near its home base in Virginia Beach.

Drone-Up has been developing a partnership with Iris Automation to establish a ground-based obstacle avoidance system – known as Casia G – to meet the FAA’s stringent safety requirements for BVLOS flights.  It’s a highly advanced technology system and will eventually allow Drone-Up to operate at scale, with multiple drones piloted remotely over long distances.  Apparently, it took some time for the FAA to review and evaluate the new technology and Drone-Up’s partnership with Iris – hence the delay in its approval of the company’s BVLOS waiver.

DroneUp’s drones are ideally suited to medical supply deliveries.  About five feet in diameter, they fly at an altitude of 200 feet in elevation, and can carry up to 10 pounds of cargo, more than the average store delivery.  The drones hover over a designated landing zone, located next to a hospital or clinic, and slowly lower their goods to the ground with a metal cable.  It’s point-to-point delivery, but not to an individual office or home.

Paul Davenport, Vice President of Emergency Medicine, Carilion Clinic, says his company is always looking for fresh ways to lower healthcare barriers, especially for elderly and disadvantaged patients or those that live far from Carillon facilities.  “Drones could deliver goods directly to patients who don’t have transportation or who live in remote locations,” he says. “We think drone technology will help us meet our neighbors where they are.”

“Drones present a quicker approach to delivering medicine and medical supplies,” adds Greg James, Vice President of Business Development, DroneUp. “At DroneUp, we’re always looking for innovative ways to support consumers through drone delivery.”

Last year Drone-Up was named to Fast Company’s Second Annual List of the “Next Big Things in Tech.” To date the company claims to have flown for over 100,000 hours with zero reported safety incidents. In addition to retail and medical supply deliveries, the company helps customers with real estate, construction and infrastructure inspections.

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