VISA, Riverside Health System, DroneUp, Accomack- Northampton Planning District Commission and VIPC Announce Partnership for Medical Package Drone Delivery Project

March 31, 2023
Medical Cargo Drone

The Virginia Institute for Spaceflight & Autonomy (VISA), Riverside Health System (RHS), DroneUp, and the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission (A-NPDC) have announced a working partnership, with startup funding provided by the Unmanned Systems Center at the Virginia Innovation Partnership Corporation (VIPC), to initiate the exploration of potential applications, concept of operations formulation including demonstration flights in order to evaluate critical medical package drone delivery for Healthcare and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) in the state of Virginia.

The $75,000 start-up funding provided by VIPC has allowed the team to jump start the exploration of use cases, concepts of operations, and Eastern Shore community engagement efforts including medical package drone delivery demonstrations for a short-range patient prescription delivery, and extended deliveries demonstration to potentially enable local homebound patients to receive time-critical medical supplies easily and quickly.

“VIPC is dedicated to supporting the development of unmanned systems technology services that will improve Virginia communities,” Tracy Tynan, director of the Virginia Unmanned Systems Center at VIPC, said. “This project will study the feasibility of providing a fast and efficient drone delivery system for Riverside patients with limited access to transportation. We are looking forward to assessing the outcomes of this promising concept to enhance healthcare and EMS on the Eastern Shore.”

VISA, a part of Old Dominion University, has been a key leader in initiating and building this partnership to facilitate this project. This team and initial concept of operations started back in September of 2022 and grew out of VIPC’s interest in using “Drones for Good” as well as a Growth and Opportunity Virginia - ReInvent Hampton Roads planning grant that is exploring Autonomous Systems Routes and Corridors in the region. “Since September of 2022, we have  been working hard to formalize this team, concept of drone operations, and various applications” said John Costulis, Deputy Executive Director for VISA. “This project embodies VISA’s mission to grow the entrepreneurial ecosystems for space flight and autonomy, create an environment of innovation, and educational opportunities for these two industries.” Dr. David Bowles, Executive Director for VISA added, “We’re so excited to be working with these wonderful partners for the chance to improve health outcomes on the Eastern Shore where VISA is located.”

Riverside Health System’s service area includes the Eastern Shore of Virginia, a 70-mile stretch between the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean and is one of the few remaining rural regions on the Atlantic Seaboard. Due to socioeconomic factors, some residents may have limited transportation options to receive pharmaceutical care. With an increasing demand for pharmaceutical shipments, the collaboration between VISA, Riverside and DroneUP can answer the call. The drone delivery for critical medical cargo is in support of optimizing health equity and patient outcomes and improving supply chain efficiencies.

“We are excited to partner with VISA and DroneUp to offer an innovative drone delivery service,” says Nick Chuquín, President of Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital. “DroneUp provides us with the opportunity to provide patients in more rural communities with increased access to health supplies and pharmaceuticals with fast at-home delivery, thus improving patient experience and patient outcomes.”

By improving Riverside Health System’s last-mile delivery solutions with drone and innovative unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), they can increase access of medical supplies to Home Care patients; improve patient medication delivery times to and from remote locations; reduce staff time for non-core transportation and delivery functions; support local emergency management response for medical and non-medical related needs and more.

DroneUp, located in Virginia Beach, is a technology company focusing on commercial drone services. The company has been bringing the benefits of drones to local communities, organizations, and the planet since its inception in 2016. In 2022, DroneUp partnered with Walmart to open 34 delivery Hubs across six states. Drone delivery transportation from DroneUp will enable Riverside to meet the demands of an expanding service area.

“Drone technology continues to demonstrate new and exciting use cases, not only for serving businesses, but also for helping both individuals and communities. Delivering medical supplies is a perfect example to showcase how drones are constantly solving complex situations with innovative solutions,” said Tom Walker, CEO of DroneUp. “It is this type of forward-thinking that makes us excited to be working in this industry and demonstrating the real-world advantages that drones offer to those in need.”

The VIPC funding and partnership enabled the team to pursue, successfully compete, and be selected for a $1.877 million Federal Department of Transportation Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) Grant from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. More details to follow regarding this Federal level grant.