Drone delivery company Flirtey is partnering with Reno-based ambulance service REMSA to send out defibrillators by air as part of every response to a cardiac arrest emergency.
A Flirtey drone delivers a defibrillator as part of a joint emergency program with Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority in Reno. (Photo: Image provided by Flirtey)
Defibrillators may be jumpstarting Flirtey’s pilot program for medical drone delivery.
As the company expands its coalition of partners and eyes inclusion in a fast-tracked federal drone program, however, the company is eyeing even more expansive skies for medical delivery.
“I could see delivery of EpiPens for people having an allergic reaction while they’re out for lunch,” said Flirtey CEO Matt Sweeney. “I could see delivery of Narcan in the event of an opioid overdose.
“If you can get to the scene faster with drones, it will help save lives.”
Drugs for treating severe allergic reactions and opioid overdoses are just two examples Sweeney cited as the next logical steps in expanding the operation concept behind delivering automated external defibrillators or AEDs, which the company started testing in October. Right now, it’s more of a question of when such an expansion would occur, not if.
It’s one reason why the company welcomed a recent joint application submitted by the city of Reno for a federal drone pilot program. Successful applicants to the initiative by the Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Transportation, which was announced via a memo from President Donald Trump on Oct. 25, would see their drone programs fast-tracked for three years.
The fast-tracking is seen as such a competitive advantage that it became a point of contention for Reno-based Flirtey when it believed it wasn’t included by the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development in a separate application while murmurs had rival Amazon as being part of the mix. The application deadline has since passed but Flirtey is mum on whether it made the list for the state application.
“I really can’t say anything about that,” Sweeney said.
Instead, Sweeney talked up Flirtey’s pilot program for delivering defibrillators, which the company has been testing on rural land in the outskirts of Reno-Sparks since October. Flirtey is now looking to expand the program into a more urban setting, which it plans to do through an expanded coalition that includes more stakeholders.
In addition to original partner Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority, Flirtey says it is welcoming more entities into the fold. The additional partners include:
Airmap City of Reno City of Sparks Washoe County Reno Police Department Reno Fire Department Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve sees the partnership as a win-win for the city.
“This is an opportunity to create high-paying jobs and help develop the kind of drone technology that will have a direct and positive impact on citizens of Reno,” Schieve said in a prepared statement.
The list also includes a tribal government that Flirtey is not naming at this point, as well as other commercial and not-for-profit partners.
The startup Airmap, for example, will help the company integrate into the national airspace and fly in close proximity to manned aircraft. Having buy-in from local agencies will also help improve communication during emergencies. Partnering with the tribal government, meanwhile, will allow testing of medical delivery in communities that typically have less access to medical services.
Flirtey is in for tough competition, especially against bigger rival Amazon, which is putting some serious financial and intellectual muscle behind its own drone program.
As a company that started out by testing drone delivery of food items such as Slurpees and pizzas , however, medical delivery is seen by Flirtey as a game changer.
“Based on our analysis … and historical data, just one of our drones carrying AEDs and operating in an area with the population density of Reno will save one life every two weeks,” Sweeny said. “We can set a precedent here in Reno and expand that across the country.
“Seeing a Flirtey drone delivering an AED will be as common as seeing an ambulance on the road.”
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