When roads, powerlines and other infrastructure are knocked out of action by natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy, getting critical supplies to people in need is all the more difficult. Drones are shaping as hugely promising tools in disaster relief with the ability to quite literally overcome these complications, and a ship-to-shore medical delivery carried out this week with UN and American Red Cross officials on hand has offered a first look at how autonomous flight might come to save lives in the real world.
Australian startup Flirtey has form when it comes to drone-flight firsts in the US. Last year it carried out the first drone delivery exercise approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), ferrying medical supplies to rural folk in Virginia. Earlier this year it also completed what was the country’s first approved autonomous urban drone delivery, carrying bottled water, emergency food and a first aid kit to an uninhabited residential area in Hawthorne, Nevada.
On Thursday, the company teamed up with Dr Timothy Amukele, assistant professor of pathology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, to showcase the humanitarian potential of its technology when it comes to disaster relief along coastal regions. But this is no niche market Flirtey is targeting. According to the United Nations, half of the world’s population lives within 60 km (37 mi) of the sea, with 75 percent of all major cities lying along the coast. This latest exercise saw medical samples carried autonomously on a round trip between a medical camp on the New Jersey coast and a vessel around 1 km (0.62 mi) offshore.