The skies in Brunswick County were buzzing with activity last week. Leading unmanned aerial vehicle companies were demonstrating the viability of using drones for medical emergency package delivery. This operation took place in response to the White House task force on Coronavirus (COVID-19). The former Saint Paul's College campus located in the Town of Lawrenceville, Virginia provided the perfect test location.
Virginia's Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) coordinated the multiday testing effort that was led by DroneUP of Virginia Beach and included UPS and its subsidiary UPS Flight Forward, Workhorse Group and AirBox Group based in Richmond. The group was researching how unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones, might assist medical professionals in their fight to stop the spread of the Coronavirus.
Experts in the healthcare industry and in government are looking for technologies that can speed the pace of testing and treatment for infected patients, making unmanned aircraft a potentially valuable tool. The experiment evaluated the commercial drone industry's ability to scale up small UAS deliveries in order to assist the U.S. healthcare system during the pandemic.
"I am encouraged to see so many private sector partners stepping up and thinking innovatively as we work together to combat COVID-19," said Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. "Drones can be an important way to deliver medical supplies while people stay home to adhere to our social distancing guidelines. Virginia is well-positioned to be a leader in the unmanned system industry, and we are pleased to be a part of this initiative."
"The Brunswick County Board of Supervisors is pleased that CIT reached out to our County to assist in this time of national crisis," said Dr. Charlette T. Woolridge, County Administrator. "We were able to demonstrate that we could rapidly respond to the need of the companies and the government. This is another example of how we validate that Brunswick County is open for business. We welcome this testing and are eager to support this emerging economic sector."
"This is an exciting event for the Virginia's Growth Alliance (VGA) region. We have been making historic strides in the unmanned systems sector for more than two decades. We were able to show that our Region supports this industry, and that we have the resources for companies to be successful. This is a very proud moment for Brunswick County and VGA," said Jeffrey Reed, Executive Director of VGA.
Over the course of three days test participants conducted exercises in Lawrenceville, which sought to determine processes, policies and training necessary to conduct efficient, safe and effective delivery operation during day and night.
"GO Virginia and GO Virginia Region 3 are excited to support the tests in Brunswick County," said Erik Johnston, Director, Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and Randy Lail, GO Virginia Region 3 Chairman. "GO Virginia quickly pivoted to use a portion of its funds to support projects like this that can lead to economic recovery," said Johnston. "GO Virginia Region 3's ability to quickly review this project is one way we can support opportunities that lead to long-term recovery that aligns with our Regional goals," said Lail. "Additionally, this testing highlights the assists in the Region that help make southern Virginia an ideal location for the Unmanned Industry sector. We are eager to continue to use our resources to help our Region recover."
"Drones offer a low-touch option for delivery of lab specimens and medical products that could make a significant impact in an urgent response application Said Scott Price, UPS Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer. Last year, UPS initiated the first ongoing revenue-generating drone delivery service at WakeMed's flagship hospital and campus in Raleigh, N.C. UPS also established UPS Flight Forward, which later earned the Federal Aviation Administration's standard Part 135 Standard certification to operate a drone airline. UPS has worked with innovative drone technology partners and aviation regulators for years to advance the use of drones for delivery.
Data collected during this fast-paced simulation will be included in a report to the White House, who will consider what role the growing UAS industry might play in the Coronavirus response. "Many in the public - along with federal, state and local officials - are asking how drones can be used in this time of crisis," said Tom Walker, DroneUp CEO. "Rather than speculate, it is incumbent upon our industry to conduct operationally-based exercises that produce factual data and lessons learned to ensure we can respond safely, effectively and efficiently when called upon. Data collected now will impact our capabilities beyond the COVID-19 outbreak we are currently facing." DroneUp provides end-to-end aerial data collection services for its clients. The company also qualifies and deploys drone pilots to serve a variety of commercial industries.
Virginia's Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) has been Virginia's primary driver of innovation and entrepreneurship since 1985. Virginia's commitment to unmanned system innovation led to the development of The Virginia Unmanned Systems Center at CIT to support this rapidly growing and innovative industry. "Our thoughts are with those who have been most affected by this crisis, said Ed Albrigo, CIT President and CEO. "CIT is committed to exploring innovative responses to the COVID -19 pandemic, including emergency package deliveries by drones. We appreciate the willingness of DroneUp, UPS and Workhorse to be part of the solution."
For More Information:
About Brunswick County
About Virginia's Growth Alliance (VGA)
About GO VA
About The Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD)
About the Center for Innovative Technology (CIT)
Investing in Virginia's Growth | CIT concentrates on the early commercialization and seed funding stages of innovation, helping innovators and tech entrepreneurs launch and grow new companies, create high paying jobs and accelerate economic growth throughout the entire state of Virginia. Founded in 1985, CIT accelerates next generation technologies and technology companies through commercialization, capital formation, market development initiatives, and expansion of broadband throughout Virginia. Our programs include | CIT GAP Funds | Commonwealth Research Commercialization Fund (CRCF) | Virginia Founders Fund | Broadband/Rural Broadband | Smart Communities | Cybersecurity | Unmanned Systems | SBIR/STTR Support (Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) & Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs) | University Partnerships | Startup Company Mentoring & Engagement. CIT's CAGE Code is 1UP71. Contact: 2214 Rock Hill Road #600, Herndon, VA 20170 | 703.689.3000 | www.cit.org | You can also follow CIT on Twitter,LinkedIn and Facebook.
Tracy Tynan, Director Center for Innovative Technology | The Virginia Unmanned Systems Center at CIT tracy.tynan@CIT.org