While drones are currently little more than fun toys, experts are also increasingly recognizing them for their transportation potential. While Amazon has already been looking into package delivery drones, these UAVs might be more realistically used to deliver crucial supplies when roads, powerlines and other infrastructure is destroyed by Hurricane Sandy-like natural disasters. Australian startup Flirtey has been working on a 3D printed drone that can make those crucial deliveries for some time, and just completed a ship-to-shore medical delivery test off the coast of New Jersey.
This test was not completely unexpected. The Australian pioneers have been working on their 3D printed drone from their Reno, Nevada HQ for some time, even becoming the first to complete an urban FAA delivery test a few months ago. During that test, they successfully dropped a package of bottled water, food, and a first aid kit on a house’s doorstep. Earlier this month, the startup announced plans for the first-ever US ship-to-shore delivery with the goal of showcasing humanitarian aid possibilities.
For this ambitious test, the startup joined forces with Dr Timothy Amukele, assistant professor of pathology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, to plan and conduct a remarkable medical delivery. Also involved were officials from the UN’s humanitarian assistance office UNOCHA, the Field Innovation Team, The New Jersey Institute of Technology, Ryan Media Lab and American Red Cross, who all witnessed the test firsthand. The center of attention was the Flirty proprietary drone, a six-rotor system constructed from 3D printed, aluminum and carbon fiber components.
Fortunately, the test was a complete success. “On the first leg, Johns Hopkins loaded Flirtey’s drones on shore with stool, blood and urine samples, and Flirtey delivered these to the ship,” Flirtey CEO Matt Sweeny told gizmag. “On the second leg, Flirtey’s delivery drone landed on a barge on turbulent seas and was loaded with medical supplies, including water purification tablets, insulin and a first aid kit, and delivered these ship-to-shore to representatives from the United Nations and the American Red Cross.”
In geographical terms, it wasn’t a very long flight. The drone took off from a barge in New Jersey’s Delaware Bay, and proceeded to fly across the Cape May Canal towards the Cape May-Lewes Ferry Terminal, where it dropped off its precious cargo. The test flight had previously been approved by the FAA. “Ship to shore drone delivery fills a humanitarian need, but is also something that commercial shippers want. We think the next major step for the industry is to do commercial drone delivery to a customer’s home,” Sweeny said of the flight.
The hope is, of course, that these types of drone deliveries will be used in the near future to transport crucial supplies to stranded, otherwise unreachable people and communities. And as 75 percent of all major cities can be found within 37 miles of the coast and 44 percent of the world’s population lives within 95 miles of the coast (according to UN figures), it only made sense to schedule a ship-to-shore exercise. “Imagine a future where in the event of a natural disaster like Hurricane Sandy, Flirtey drones rapidly deliver emergency medical supplies, food and water,” says Sweeny. “This demonstration is helping to make that future a reality, and taking us one step closer to Flirtey’s mission to save lives and change lifestyles.”
Flirtey co-founder Tom Bass echoed these statements, arguing that their drone provided them with an opportunity to reach disaster zone easily. He also revealed more about the Flirtey development process. “Today would not have been possible without Mark and Kyle from Ryan Media Lab. Flirtey has been the beneficiary of their amazing ability to build coalitions here in Cape May, and also when we conducted the first FAA-approved drone delivery last year in Wise, Virginia,” he said.
Andrew Billo, Humanitarian Affairs Officer at UNOCHA, was also present at the test and was very impressed by the 3D printed drone’s potential. “We recognize the opportunity for us to engage with drone developers and operators in ensuring the principled application of game-changing technologies in response to humanitarian crises around the world,” he said. “Participating in this event supports the mission of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to mobilize and coordinate effective humanitarian action with a broad range of partners.” Footage of the test can be seen below.