Last Friday, a drone delivered medicine to a remote clinic in a coal mining region of southwest Virginia. Here’s what the event marked the first FAA-approved drone delivery in the US means for your supply chain.
When medical supplies are in need, driving isn’t always a viable option. Transportation takes manpower and wastes valuable time in a supply chain, damaging cars on unpaved country roads. The lack of available routes to more populated areas means heavy traffic is common. Drone delivery, on the other hand, provides a fast, automated method of getting much-needed supplies to rural areas.
While this may not seem like a big deal, this delivery could pave the way for better emergency response systems. There’s also the opportunity to use drones to ship packages faster, as distributors like Amazon hope to do. Drones will cut down delivery costs and time and ease up congestion on roads and rail. The biggest obstacle to our drone filled reality, though, is a good few years of regulatory preparation—don’t expect to see drones buzzing around New York City delivering lunch anytime soon. Regulators would need to establish flight paths through busy cities to prevent accidents, and figure out ways to avoid disrupting the daily lives of city residents. The Virginia drones flew over largely uninhabited land, causing no disruptions and making it easy for lawmakers to condone the flight. Privacy implications are also a concern: drones flying over the heads of thousands of citizens need to be monitored and kept track of, which would be tough as services scale. In addition to regulatory headaches, today’s drones are only capable of carrying a small amount of weight, hardly efficient for moving raw materials or goods. But for individual shipments, drones can offer speedy delivery times, specifically for hard to reach places.
In the meantime, reports WTHR Indiana, residents of Wise County, VA, are hoping to utilize the growing popularity of drones to boost their own economy. The region was once a coal mining hub, but as the country grows less dependent on the material, poverty has grown rife throughout the region. Now over 25% of Wise County residents live in poverty, and that number is growing. Residents hope that Virginia, whose regulations on drones are relatively lax, can become a central location for drone development and testing.
It’s a pivotal time for drone delivery systems, and rural transportation cases allow regulators to begin the long process of proliferating drone use. Even with the smooth flying drones promise, prepare for some turbulence along the way.