Medical deliveries are scheduled to start in North Carolina in June, but how safe is safe enough for a delivery drone?
Later this year, Zipline will bring its fleet of medical delivery drones (read more about them here) to North Carolina to take part in the Federal Aviation Administration’s UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP). Zipline will be working with the North Carolina Department of Transportation “to set up a network of medical distribution centers that can use drones to make medical deliveries,” which is what Zipline has been doing for several years now in Africa. The FAA is being very careful and methodical with the IPP, because there are a lot of unknowns about how commercial drones can be safely and effectively integrated into a complex, crowded airspace over a crowded, complex country.
Zipline is in a unique position to show both North Carolina and the FAA what’s possible with drones, since the company is (as far as we know) the only one doing continuous commercial drone delivery on a national scale. They have more experience than anyone else with things like operational-drone safety, which the FAA is understandably very concerned about, as we reported just last week.
Practical delivery drones will need to fly beyond line-of-sight, probably at night, and almost certainly over people, things which the FAA generally doesn’t allow at the moment. These drones will also need to be large enough to carry a kilogram or two of useful payload, which definitely makes them large enough to be potentially dangerous. The FAA’s notice of proposed rulemaking includes some suggestions about how delivery drones might be made safe enough for operating over people, like emergency parachutes or structures that crumple or break up on impact to absorb energy.
It’s probably not a coincidence that Zipline is already using techniques like these in its delivery drones in Rwanda, and ahead of its North Carolina debut, we spoke with Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo about the present and near future of operational drone safety in the United States.
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