The weekend marked a significant milestone in not just Australian startup Flirtey’s journey, but the US drone industry as well, with the startup and NASA both conducting the first Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved deliveries by drones on US soil in Wise, Virginia, as part of an event labelled ‘Let’s Fly Wisely’.
Two types of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) delivered pharmaceuticals and other medical supplies at a free medical clinic in Wise, Virginia – one was a fixed-wing aircraft operated by NASA in Langley, and the others will be multi-rotor delivery drones operated by Flirtey, which can safely be called the world’s first autonomous aerial delivery service ‘Let’s Fly Wisely‘ was a collaboration between Flirtey, NASA, The Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership at Virginia Tech, The Health Wagon, Remote Area Medical, Rx Partnership, Seespan Incorporated and Wise County. The FAA selected Virginia Tech in December of 2013 as one of six national test programs to conduct research about integrating unmanned aircraft into the nation’s airspace.
There is a huge gap across the country in the medical space where many citizens across Virginia and rural America are outside the reach of essential health services. Each year, Remote Area Medical USA and Health Wagon organise a clinic at Wise County fairgrounds that provides free eye, dental and healthcare services to those in the community in urgent need. In fact, this is the largest healthcare outreach program in America.
On the day, a remote piloted NASA plane flew the packages of medical supplies from the Tazewell County airport. These medical supplies were then placed onto the small Flirtey drones for the short flight to the Wise County Fairgrounds. Throughout the course of the day, the Flirtey hexacopter made six trips to the Remote Area Medical Clinic delivering its payload without touching down.
The Flirtey delivery drone is a hexacopter constructed from carbon fibre, aluminium and 3D printed components. It is a lightweight, autonomous and electrically-driven unmanned aerial vehicle. It has a range of over 10 miles return and lowers its cargo via tether. It has built-in safety features such as low battery return to safe location and auto-return home in case of low GPS signal or communication loss. Flirtey was established in Sydney in 2013 and is today based in Nevada, USA.
The Australian startup has beaten both Google’s Project Wing and Amazon Prime Air to market, making them a legitimate competitor to the two tech giants in this space.