The Chilean beach town of Zapallar is famous for the palatial homes of the country’s rich and famous dotting its coastline. But in the interior, it’s a low-income community with poor infrastructure. Now the town is using drones to help cut travel times for delivering medical supplies and to support social distancing.

Zapallar has two distinct identities. Along the water, it’s a playground for the elites from the capital of Santiago, about a two-hour drive away. But the super-rich don’t have to drive. Many of their mansions feature private heliports. Lifestyles are very different outside the rich enclaves.

In its parched interior lands, Zapallar is employing heavy-duty quadcopters to deliver bags of medication and COVID-19 related supplies, such as masks and hand sanitizer, to elderly residents in remote regions. The drones are not autonomous, but rather are remote-controlled by trained city workers.

These elderly residents live up to a two-hour walk away from the nearest pharmacy. In addition to being an arduous trip, visiting the pharmacy would risk exposure to the coronavirus.

“Now we have a solution to help them get their medications, without exposing a public worker or a member of the family of the person in quarantine,” Alessandri said Mayor Gustavo Alessandri.

He added that the drone program could be expanded to serve families that are in quarantine, should the situation worsen. But Zapallar has been lucky so far, with zero confirmed cases of COVID-19. Chile as a whole, however, is increasingly hard hit. It has recorded more than 10,000 cases since the outbreak hit the country about two months ago.

This is not the town’s first experience with drones. It has already been using them to assist in ocean rescues and to monitor forest and brush fires.

Image: Martin Woortman on Unsplash

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