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LONGITUDES

Coronavirus Pandemic Challenges Us All to Innovate Faster

drone flying

Medical professionals around the world are fighting bravely — often risking their own health — to stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus and save countless lives. In fact, I have friends, nurses and doctors working around the clock, who continue to inspire me with their dedication and perseverance amid heartbreaking conditions.

Their war against the virus rages relentlessly as the number of infections threatens to overwhelm healthcare systems in many locations. With more than 2.5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases globally, hospitals are struggling to beat back this fast-moving pandemic.

But we will prevail. And when the dust settles, we will celebrate and honor the courageous doctors, nurses and thousands of medical support professionals who faced this grim chapter in human history without flinching.

We will be forever in their debt.

A different kind of hero

Meanwhile, the world looks to another breed of hero to provide the medical community with the tools and logistics support needed to be as effective as possible.

Experts in the healthcare industry and in government are calling for technological solutions that can speed the pace of testing and treatment for infected coronavirus patients. Some technology leaders see autonomous drones as a potentially valuable solution to transport medical supplies and lab specimens faster than ground vehicles.

UPS Flight Forward (UPSFF) collaborated recently with two drone technology companies — DroneUp and Workhorse Group — and Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) in tests to determine how unmanned aerial systems can assist medical professionals in their fight to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The test participants conducted exercises for three days on the vacant campus of St. Paul's College in Lawrenceville, Virginia. The facility provided a safe, complex community environment to test package delivery by drones in a variety of conditions.

“Some technology leaders see autonomous drones as a potentially valuable solution to transport medical supplies and lab specimens faster than ground vehicles.”

During the exercise, drone experts monitored flights and evaluated test results to better understand factors such as the number of deliveries possible, airspace and operator safety policies and operational capacities available through existing technologies and regulations.

The findings derived from these fast-paced simulations will go to the White House in a white paper detailing the commercial drone industry’s ability to provide small unmanned aerial systems to bolster the coronavirus response.

UPS Flight Forward and its partners in this endeavor aim to provide actionable insights, not just hypothetical data points.

Ready for service

Should the U.S. government call on the drone delivery industry to assist in the fight against coronavirus, as has happened in other nations, we will be ready.

Regardless, our learnings can advance the budding drone delivery industry and position us to offer better service to our healthcare customers while providing logistics support in the event of another large-scale crisis in the future.

As DroneUp CEO Tom Walker said: “It is incumbent upon our industry to conduct operationally-based exercises that produce factual data and lessons learned to ensure we can respond safely, effectively and efficiently when called upon. Data collected now will impact our capabilities beyond the COVID-19 outbreak we are currently facing.”

“UPS Flight Forward and its partners will detail the commercial drone industry’s ability to provide small unmanned aerial systems to bolster the coronavirus response.”

There’s no doubt we are living in tough times. But, as we’ve learned before and will learn again, challenging times are when we find our heroes.

It’s not just the medical professionals working under chaotic and hazardous conditions to save lives. We are seeing the same dedication behind the scenes where innovators are racing to develop their solutions and bring them to the public.

The examples are countless — from the scientists worldwide racing to find a coronavirus vaccine to the drone industry leaders putting their technology to the test in hopes of speeding up healthcare logistics.

The spirit of collaboration and technological innovation is alive and well. And that should give us hope. It is perhaps our most effective weapon against this unforgiving pandemic.

UPS will continue to innovate for those who need help the most — and we’ll do so with more speed, precision and purpose than ever before. We owe the coronavirus victims, as well as those working to cure them, nothing less.

We will deliver for them.

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