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COVID-19: NCDOT helping in effort to use drones in relief efforts

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The North Carolina Department of Transportation in the US has announced a public-private partnership that will use drones to deliver critical medical supplies and food during the COVID-19 response.

The NC Department of Transportation’s Division of Aviation and its partners are inviting people interested in the initiative to learn more in an online public forum. Those interested may visit NCDOT’s Public Meetings website to obtain the meeting link and participate online.

“North Carolina has been a leader in demonstrating how drones can help people in times of crisis,” said State Transportation Secretary Eric Boyette. “We look forward to putting this technology into productive use as we work to help citizens and medical professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The initiative will be launched in May and officials are hoping to apply lessons learned from the effort to other drone relief efforts nationwide.

NCDOT and its public and private partners are working to launch the following projects to aid in COVID-19 relief:

  • In the Charlotte area, Novant Health and Zipline are proposing to deliver personal protective equipment and other medical equipment across Novant Health’s medical campuses.
  • UPS Flight Forward and Matternet are proposing to work with a Winston-Salem hospital on an operation to use drones to take healthcare equipment, medicine and personal protective equipment to medical providers. UPS Flight Forward, which earned the necessary federal certifications to operate a drone airline, has an ongoing drone delivery service at WakeMed’s main campus in Raleigh.
  • In Holly Springs, Flytrex is proposing to deliver food from multiple restaurants in a shopping center to nearby neighborhoods.

The first two programs are aimed at reducing the strain on medical supply chains, and the third will make it easier for people to follow the stay at home order. Officials will use data collected during the project to determine how this technology can be used in other areas of the country. Funding for the individual drone missions is coming from the private partners, while NCDOT is coordinating the project.

Since 2018, NCDOT has been a leading participant in using drone technology as part of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program. State, local and tribal governments, and private industries are working together to explore possible applications of drones.