The drone company Zipline has been authorized to provide medical supplies and personal protective equipment to hospitals in North Carolina.
The company will be authorized to use the drones on two specified routes after the Federal Aviation Administration has granted it an emergency waiver.
It is the first time that the FAA has allowed drone deliveries beyond the line of sight in the United States.
Experts say the pandemic could help ease some drone flight regulations.
Zipline, which has negotiated with the FAA, wants to expand to other hospitals and eventually offer home deliveries.
A waiver has been granted for two routes that provide round-trip journeys of up to 30 miles (48 km).
The drones will launch from a nearby logistics center and drop a box of medical products with the parachute into designated locations. Drones can carry up to 1.8 kg of cargo and can fly up to 80 miles per hour, even in rain or wind.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has given us the task of being even more agile and innovative in solving complex challenges,” said Angela Yochem, Chief Digital Officer of Novant Health, who is the service partner.
“Rapid monitoring of our medical drone transport capability is just one example of how we are pioneers in the healthcare sector, which is known to be resistant to change,”
Zipline struggled to find a commercial foothold in the American market, but CEO Keller Rinaudo said he hoped North Carolina’s example would “provide the rest of the country with a model” for future health deliveries.
The pandemic resulted in a handful of new drone deliveries.
The fixed-wing Windracers Ultra drone delivered PPE from Hampshire to the Isle of Wight – a 10-minute trip – and to Ireland, Manna Aero is working with the health authority to provide prescriptions and other essential supplies to a small rural town .
The professor. Robotics expert Noel Sharkey believes the pandemic could make drone deliveries more common.
“In a global pandemic, everything changes,” he said.
“Rules and laws must be manipulated and restrictions raised to allow for the use of all possible technological advantages to save a large number of lives.
“The problem is obviously how to turn the clock back on technology when we get out of the Covid-19 crisis.”