Operation Last-Mile: Critical Drone Delivery Testing Report

1 Overview

In response to the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020, various government agencies began inquiring about the capabilities of drones to deliver critical medical and other supplies to quarantined areas in the event the pandemic forced the physical quarantining of entire towns and cities. In particular, members of the commercial drone community to document their capabilities through surveys of drone manufacturers and drone service providers. Based on previous experience delivering payloads with the DJI Inspire 2 drone, ​ DroneUp LLC ​ , a leading drone service provider in the United States, responded that it could assemble a team of 50 drones and pilots who could provide delivery capability in the Eastern half of the United States. At the same time, ​ DroneUp ​ proposed to the Commonwealth of Virginia conducting a test of these capabilities through an exercise to be held at an outdoor test environment. The purpose of the test would be to determine the limits of drone delivery for small packages in a quarantine environment. Representatives of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) were intrigued by ​ DroneUp ​ ’s proposed exercise and conducted a search for an appropriate location to perform this exercise. Of three viable locations, the former campus of Saint Paul’s College in Lawrenceville, Virginia was selected. The 55-acre campus was under the stewardship of Brunswick County, Virginia. Various local, regional, and state entities agreed it was an appropriate location to perform such testing because of its rural location, variety of terrain, buildings, mature trees, and the ability to be secured for the protection of the general public during the testing. Once funding from the Commonwealth was approved and it was concluded that the operation could be held safely by complying with recognized virus protocol, the exercise was scheduled. It was called, ​ Operation Last-Mile: Critical Drone Delivery Testing. DroneUp ​ scripted a 2 ½ day test plan to utilize the ​ DroneUp pilot network ​ and readily available, industry-standard drones to simulate the delivery of 1.275-pound payloads of medical and other critical supplies in city-like conditions. This exercise sought to test the capabilities, capacity, and scalability of small package drone delivery while establishing a baseline of performance for multiple drones operated under FAA Part 107 rules. Testing variables included delivery over buildings, trees, and power lines over varying terrain. Tests were designed for both single aircraft and simultaneous multiple aircraft operations. Also tested were semi-autonomous flights versus manual flights, aircraft deconfliction using command center drone visibility software versus visual command only, and night operations.

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