Drone delivery company Flirtey recently announced that they have received approval from the FAA to conduct BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight) flights in the city of Reno, NV.
Image credit: Flirtey
For now, the approval will be used to deliver Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) for the immediate treatment of people undergoing cardiac arrest.[View Flirtey’s full 107.31 waiver here on the FAA’s website.]
The City of Reno is proud to partner with Flirtey, the FAA, and our local IPP partners to enable drone delivery of AEDs to Washoe County residents. Public safety is our top priority, and the use of drones to provide life-saving AED technology to cardiac patients will save lives across our community.
– Hillary Schieve, Mayor of Reno
Although it may not get as much airtime, cardiac arrest is a major problem in the U.S., and leads as the top cause of natural death in the nation.
With cardiac arrest, as with many medical emergencies, timing is everything. For every minute a person undergoing cardiac arrest waits to receive defibrillation, their chance of survival decreases by 10%.
By using drones to deliver AEDs, Flirtey estimates that the average survival rate for cardiac arrest of just 10% can be increased to almost 50% (47%, to be precise). Just one delivery drone equipped with an AED has the potential to save a life every two weeks in Reno, if not more.
The stakes don’t get much higher than the urgent need to get an AED to someone who may die without one. The fact that Reno’s mayor and other key leaders in the city have placed their trust in Flirtey to make these deliveries says a great deal about the confidence they have in Flirtey’s technology.
UAS IPP Tests—Flirtey’s Path to BVLOS Approval in Reno
Flirtey had a big leg up in their BVLOS waiver application because they had already completed test BVLOS delivery flights of AEDs in Reno.
These test flights were conducted as part of Reno’s involvement in the UAS Integration Pilot Program (UAS IPP), a federal program created to conduct tests of various types of drone operations otherwise prohibited by the FAA’s Part 107 rules, including BLVOS, night flying, and flights over people.
Reno’s UAS IPP Proposal
Only ten state and local governments were selected to take part in the first UAS IPP.
Wondering what Reno proposed to do if accepted into the UAS IPP? Here is what they said in their original proposal:
Proposal Description: The proposal focuses on the time-sensitive delivery of life-saving medical equipment, such as medical defibrillators in emergency situations in both urban and rural environments.
Project Highlights and Benefits: The awardee will integrate additional infrastructure such as radar and weather data in order to expand the UAS capability so it could save up to 28-34 lives per year, using one drone in a three-mile city radius. This proposal considers a nationwide scalable model for medical delivery operations and has several commercial medical partners.
It’s exciting to see that the initial test flights in Reno were so successful that they helped lead to a BVLOS waiver for Flirtey, which is one of the hardest types of Part 107 waivers to obtain. We imagine that this is exactly the path the FAA was hoping would be walked by these pilot programs—that is, that initial testing would demonstrate the safety of the operations being tested in a way that would allow the FAA to grant waivers which would in turn make those operations a regular occurrence.
Long term, Flirtey’s waiver could lead to an expansion of medical drone deliveries to other cities in the U.S., as alluded to in the final sentence of the “highlights and benefits” section above.
Curious about the other UAS IPP winners? You can check out the map below for their locations, and read more about each one of them here.
Medical Drone Delivery On the Rise
Although the progress of commercial drone delivery seems to have stalled over the last few years, medical drone delivery has been moving forward at a steady clip.
One reason medical drone deliveries have been able to move forward more quickly than commercial drone deliveries is that medical deliveries usually take place in rural areas, where there are fewer concerns about collisions.
Potential use cases for medical drone deliveries seem to continue growing. Currently, they include the delivery of blood, medicine, vaccines, AEDs (as Flirtey will do in the city of Reno), and even organs.
In fact, a few months ago we reported on researchers at the University of Maryland using a drone to deliver a human kidney in a test flight, with no resulting damage to the organ.
Companies like Zipline and Matternet have been leading the pack when it comes to medical drone deliveries, with Flirtey establishing itself as another solid contender.
All three companies have made it clear that they would like to be making commercial deliveries at some point in the future. It could be that the UAS IPP tests conducted for medical deliveries, and the permissions they help secure, could pave the way for drone deliveries to extend into other sectors.
BVLOS Waivers Taking Off
In order for drone deliveries to become an everyday phenomenon, drones will have to be flown BVLOS.
In the last six months the FAA has granted several BVLOS waivers, as well as first-of-their-kind waivers that included BVLOS operations.
In fact, of the 32 BVLOS waivers that the FAA has ever granted, ten of them—or about 1/3—were issued in the last six months.
Here are some of the standouts:
- January, 2019: State Farm secured a national BVLOS waiver to conduct damage assessments following natural disasters.
- December, 2018: Airobotics received a first-of-its-kind waiver to fly autonomous missions BVLOS and over people without a direct visual observer.
- October, 2018: GE’s Avitas Systems granted a first-of-its-kind waiver to fly a 55+ pound drone BVLOS.
- September, 2018: Xcel Energy received a BVLOS waiver for inspections in Colorado.
Did you know? All of the Part 107 waivers the FAA has ever issued are available to the public.
To view the full list of BVLOS (or 107.31) waivers, go to this page on the FAA’s website and search ‘107.31’.