Coronavirus is sending in the drones. In what’s being billed as a “world first,” startup Manna Aero has begun a drone delivery service in Moneygall, Ireland. Delivering medicine to vulnerable people locked in their homes, it provides yet another strong example of how technology is helping the world adjust to life in the shadow of the coronavirus.
Having received authorisation from the Irish Aviation Authority, Manna Aero’s service began last Friday as a pilot in Moneygall, which was previously best known as Barack Obama’s ancestral village. However, if the trial is successful, the service will be rolled out throughout Ireland, and could also be used to deliver food.
The drones will deliver prescription orders for medicine to around a dozen households. As Manna Zero’s founder Bobby Healy told the Irish Independent, the drones ensure “zero human-contact” and can execute deliveries “in ways normal delivery can’t.”
“It makes us very proud to be able to contribute to the Covid-19 effort in some small way and lift a few spirits while we do it,” he said.
The use of delivery drones is an ingenious and effective solution to the problems thrown up by the coronavirus pandemic and resulting lockdowns. People obviously still need medicine and food, but venturing outside means raising the risk of coronavirus infection and transmission.
A drone delivery system solves this problem nicely, using a technology that has been around for several years already, but that hadn’t yet answered a real need or demand. Now, with confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide topping one million, that need and demand is definitely here.
However, while certain media outlets have used the term ‘world’s first’ to describe the service, it isn’t the first time that drones have been used to deliver medicines or food.
Unsurprisingly, China is the first country to have used drone deliveries. As early, as January, reports emerged revealing that the Asian country was using robots to deliver food to quarantined occupants of a hotel. And while these robots weren’t unmanned aerial vehicles, China also began using drones to deliver medicine at least as early as the beginning of March (but probably earlier).
And in the US, a company called Zipline is currently seeking authorisation from the FAA to launch its own medicine delivery service as soon as possible. As Justin Hamilton, the company’s head of communication, told Fast Company at the end of March, delivery drones will become increasingly important as the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown progresses.
“There are tens of millions of Americans with chronic and underlying conditions that require regular medical care, consultations, trips to the hospitals, and specialty pharmaceuticals,” he said. “Because COVID-19 is going to overwhelm the health system, that means that these chronic care patients can’t go to the hospital, both because they’re at higher risk for infection and death, and because there’s just no, there’s no capacity to help them at the moment.”
He adds, “What we’re seeing is, I think, a big surge in the idea of telemedicine.” And it’s likely that drones will form an integral part of this idea, enabling hospitals and clinics to deliver medicines when patients (or medical staff) are unable to travel in person.
Of course, we need more than delivery drones to defeat the coronavirus. But with apps like Zoom and Netflix helping us to work and play at home, drones provide yet another vital tool in our efforts to live ‘normal’ lives while hiding away from Covid-19.