If a hospital in Huntersville, North Carolina, needs to quickly replenish its supply of surgical masks and gowns as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it will now be able to summon a drone to make a delivery. Novant Health, the nonprofit that runs the hospital and hundreds of other facilities in the Southeast, just became the first hospital system to be granted a drone operator permit from the FAA. The system will begin the first long-range, ongoing drone deliveries in the U.S., using technology from Zipline, a startup that first launched its services in Africa.
“We believe this will allow us to, in a very precise, on-demand way, get supplies to where they need to be exactly when they need to be there,” says Angela Yochem, executive vice president and chief digital and technology officer at Novant Health. The organization already has a well-tuned distribution system, and has calculated that if coronavirus cases surge in the region, it has enough personal protective equipment to cover the need. But it also wanted to do everything possible to prepare for the crisis—and will eventually use the same system to make more routine deliveries.