3D Robotics


Congratulations to Flirtey, whose Pixhawk-powered copter has been approved by the FAA for the first US drone deliver trials. From Dronelife:

July 17 will be a day of victory to the countless amounts of people who have been fighting for looser regulations on drone usage. For the first time, a drone with a seal of approval from the FAA will deliver pharmaceuticals to a free medical clinic in West Virginia. This project is a collaboration between NASA, Virginia Tech, and Flirtey. The fixed-wing air vehicle was built at NASA Langley and its multi-rotor delivery drones were manufactured by Flirtey.

Organizers of the event hope to showcase how drones can be used for positive events rather than be used for malicious purposes or by those who solely fly them for entertainment. The purpose of these drones will be to bring medication to underserved areas of the community.

According to Matt Sweeny, CEO of Flirtey, “Proving that unmanned aircraft can deliver life-saving medicines is an important step toward a future where unmanned aircraft make routine autonomous deliveries of your every day purchases.”

Primarily made of aluminum and fiber, the hexacopter also has dome 3d printed materials on it. The aircraft has the ability to fly over 10 miles from its starting point and can drop cargo off via a tethered line. It also has safety features that warn users about low battery or loss of GPS signal. In such cases, it will automatically return to its home base.

This July 17, the drone will drop off as many as 24 packages of medication that will weigh about 10 pounds. Just like this drone is being used to serve a good purpose, many drone supporters believe that it is a glimpse of what we will see in the future; more relax regulations of drone usage, allowing people to receive other items at their doorstep.

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  • When I first saw this story, Flirtey were working with a university to develop technology. Now we read it is a PixHawk powered ship? Great for the PixHawk as it certainly capable but now I'm think the true innovation is more in the integration of existing technology. I think the ameteur tech is not so ameteur anymore. 

  • I agree with Euan. Sometime back i had this in mind. But after deep brainstorming, i found extremely few situations where drones would be used to deliver emergency medical supplies. Survival supplies is a practical scenario though.

  • I also tried the "but drones could do the resupply" angle - also a no go; between the guys I interviewed, they had 30 years of experience between them, and have never actually been in a situation where they ran out of 1st line gear.

    However, they did comment that surgical instruments of specific types were often not included in their gear. However, they were able to work around it with the existing ones. 

  • And how does he deploy this? If that's a 960, the arms are hard mounted, so no folding this into a hold back. He has to dismantle and rebuild for every remote deployment. He should have used the X6, and at least it'll go in a case that'll go in any aircraft hold. He definitely won't be allowed to haul into the back of a hercules like that.

  • Because most life-saving medicines and instruments are not suitable for self deployment. So you need to have a qualified person onsite, and as they are deployed the most common stuff (adrenaline, AS sprays etc) with them. So defeats the purpose. The only significant stuff is the bigger toys like defibrilators, transfusion pumps etc, but if you need those, you call a 1:1 and airlift the guy to hospital. In both cases the drone benefit is marginal at best.

    Insulin is a common one quoted as it's self-deploy, but this is also false, as this is not treated like this - sugar balanced food packs, water etc are deployed first. Blood packs are a viable option, but again, if the individual is bleeding out badly enough to need them, the 1:1 evac is called.

    Believe me, I've been down this road as well, thinking I was being a right old smart arse thinking it was the perfect business case for drones. Until a couple of interviews with first responders completely shredded just about every case I could present. I about abandoned the whole project, I was so demoralised.

    The only one that survived the ordeal was the survival packs; low risk, low priority for 1:1 in a disaster scenarion but still urgent, can be self-deployed etc. The only snag is the weight of these - 7-10kg and they're bulky. Which is why my EPM-based system is now rated for 8kg, and designed to carry these. I was invited to Nepal for exactly this deployment scenario (but couldn't go, due to work commitments).

    There are flaws with this guys airframe too. How does know he's on target when he drops the load? I see no down-facing live feed camera to aid with targeting. It's imprecise at best, and dangerous at worst.

  • Euan, why?

  • Mike T: absolutely. But they won't; it would dilute either of their options which are more advanced than this. Why buy out a small player whose behind the curve?

    As someone else in the cargo space, I grow tired of seeing more vaporware and sizzle. Do they realise that most medicinal deployments they have in mind can't be done and aren't supported by medics? Delivery of medicine by drone is media friendly, but not supported in reality.

  • 100% their aim is to bought out by amazon or dhl

  • Developer

    Well done Flirtey!

  • Bart: Yep ... I've even seen this as an actual FAA requirement on early 333 exemptions: UAV needs to RTH in case of GPS loss. Not going to happen, and sorts of makes you wonder about FAA drone understanding ...

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