Jun 24, 2015 | By Simon

As more and more developments are made towards making drones cheaper, faster and more functional than ever before, we’re starting to see just how capable and useful they truly can be.

While the drone designs themselves vary from those designed for racing to those designed for making package deliveries, a large majority share one thing in common: they consist of or at one time were made from 3D printed parts.  Now, one drone design in particular that features 3D printed components has been approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to begin making deliveries in the United States.

Starting on July 17th, the FAA will allow a collaboration between NASA, new Australian drone delivery startup Flirtey and Virginia Tech to fly unmanned aircraft to deliver pharmaceuticals to a free medical clinic in West Virginia as a part of the ‘Let’s Fly Wisely‘ event.  

Among other goals of the collaboration including proving that drone usage can be used for multiple applications - such as bringing life-saving medications or other supplies to those in need in disaster areas or underserved communities.  

To make their autonomous drone deliveries, Flirtey uses a custom-designed hexacopter which is made from carbon fiber, aluminum and some select 3D printed components.  With a range of more than 10 miles, from a central location, it’s clear just how useful the drone can be for making deliveries in urban metropolitan areas.  To lower cargo, a tethered line ensures that packages reach their destination safely before returning to their home base.  To ensure that the drones don’t crash or otherwise cause any safety issues, an in-built computer intelligently monitors battery level and GPS signals to ensure that it doesn’t get lost or crash in the field due to lack of communication.

“This is a Kitty Hawk moment not just for Flirtey, but for the entire industry,” said Flirtey CEO Matt Sweeny in a statement. “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 everyday purchases.”

For this event in particular, which is a part of part of the Wise County Fairgrounds' Remote Area Medical USA and Health Wagon clinic, the drones will deliver up to 24 packages of prescription medication that weigh a total of ten pounds.

While the event will surely show off just how effective the drones can be for delivering goods, there are still limitations that have been set in place by the FAA for how and when drones are used commercially.  Currently, there are still a number of hurdles in place for making drone delivery a common reality in public areas.  However, companies such as Flirtey are helping rapidly move developments forward.  Since 2013, the Australian startup has delivered everything from textbooks to humanitarian relief.  In May of 2015, the company conducted what they are calling the “first drone delivery over a populated area” after they sent automotive parts via their automated hexacopter.

While automated drone delivery for humanitarian, online retail, rood and courier delivery is still a few years off, it’s increasingly becoming a matter of ‘when’, not ‘if’ the method of delivery will become a reality.  



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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