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Drone medicine delivery begins in Ireland

Ireland’s Manna Aero had a plan—to deliver fast food by drone. And it was about to start a trial for college students in March when the coronavirus hit–one of so many plans changed by the pandemic. Now it’s pivoted to a new role as a delivery service for pharmacies.

This week the startup began delivery of prescriptions to senior citizens’ homes in a trial program designed for the COVID-19 social-distancing era. It comes on the heels of UPS announcing a delivery service to seniors in a retirement community in Florida. But unlike that program, which drops prescriptions off at a central location, Manna Aero flies right to the individual’s home.

With physicians writing prescriptions during video consults, the entire operation is contact-free. In addition to medication, the service can also deliver essentials like bread and milk to people who should not be going outside due to their vulnerability to the coronavirus. The copter-style drone, made in Wales, can carry up to 9 pounds of cargo. Manna says it can handle up to 100 deliveries a day.

The company emphasizes the safety of its craft. Although they are autonomous, a remote pilot is on hand at all times to take over, says the company. Each drone is even equipped with a parachute, should there be a complete failure of the system.

Beyond one town

Moneygall is one small rural town, but it has ambitions to expand across Ireland and across the water into the UK. Manna Aero chief executive Bobby Healy told the BBC that trials in the UK could begin in the coming weeks, assuming a lockdown is still in place.

Drone medical deliveries are not as far along in Ireland and the UK as in the US, which has at least half a dozen trial programs underway. And they are all far behind a country like Rwanda, which has had tens of thousands of medical delivery flights since 2016. But things are beginning to change. The UK recently announced plans to fly heavy-duty drones to deliver medical supplies to the Isle of Wight on the English Channel.

As the pandemic grinds on, drone companies have proven themselves very ready to adapt to the new circumstances. And public authorities have more receptive to trying new technologies.



Avatar for Sean Captain Sean Captain

Sean Captain is a Bay Area technology, science, and policy journalist. Follow him on Twitter @SeanCaptain.