Before the COVID-19 era, drone delivery services were almost as rare as unicorns. There were believers, but not a lot of sightings. That’s changing quickly as the need for social distancing is inspiring ever more test programs.

The latest involves North Dakota-based drone company Flytrex. It announced today the start of a trial drone delivery program in the city of Grand Forks, North Dakota. The program will ferry food, medicine, and other “essential goods” from a local shopping center to nearby neighbors. The packages will be dropped in backyards.

According to the company, only a “select number of area households which have opted-in to the service” will participate at first. However, Flytrex CEO Yariv Bash said that the company intends to extend the program in the future.

The COVID-19 imperative to limit person-to-person contact was the motivation behind the program, says Grand Forks Mayor Michael R. Brown. “With COVID-19 threatening the well-being of our community, our businesses, and our way of life, we are committed to easing the burden on our citizens by leveraging unique resources in this time of crisis,” he said in a statement.

“UAVs offer safe, swift, and efficient delivery of much-needed goods with no risk of unnecessary human contact for consumers,” added Bash.

A history of drone deliveries

Flytrex is one of the pioneers in the nascent world of drone deliveries, along with companies such as Flirtey, Matternet, Wing, and Zipline. In 2017, Flytrex launched in Reykjavik, Iceland, what it claims was the world’s first on-demand urban drone delivery service. Then in 2018, it began a delivery program at the King’s Walk Golf Course in Grand Forks.

In 2019, the company joined the North Carolina Department of Transportation in an FAA initiative called the UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP). The North Carolina project is one of several around the country trialing new drone operations that go beyond what current regulations allow. The partnership will bear fruit next month, when Flytrex begins a restaurant delivery program in the town of Holly Springs, North Carolina.

Image: Courtesy Flytrex


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