From takeaways to medication, Irish drone company changes course over coronavirus pandemic

From takeaways to medication, Irish drone company changes course over coronavirus pandemic

Manna Aero should have been dropping off its first takeaway orders around a Dublin university campus by drone in March but then the coronavirus pandemic shut the country and its pilot programme down.

Within a week, the drone company was testing out an entirely different concept – delivering medication and critical supplies to isolated elderly people whom the Irish government, like many others, had told to stay home to avoid infection.

 Manna worked with Ireland’s health service operator to test the service in Moneygall, the small midlands town best known for its ancestral links to former US President Barack Obama, who visited in 2011.  

After a number of weeks flying to and from residents’ homes, the local pharmacy and convenience store – located at the Barack Obama Plaza motorway service station – Mana says it has proved the technology works.

“We’re delivering critical food supplies and pharmacy products to the inhabitants of the town who are cocooning during the pandemic.

“We’re delighted to serve the people of the town who are also very delighted to get everything they need in less than three minutes,” Manna Aero chief executive and founder Bobby Healy told Reuters.

Manna, which counts Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, an early Facebook backer, among its investors, will continue the deliveries on a non-commercial basis and could cover 600 similarly sized towns around the country by the end of the year if the government wishes, Mr Healy said.

With one drone capable of making 100 4kg deliveries a day, that could involve not only the 450 licensed drone pilots in Ireland but also the large number of pilots Ryanair and IAG-owned Aer Lingus have said they plan to let go as a result of the coronavirus disruption.

In Moneygall, locals are running a dedicated phone line rather than a mobile phone application so more vulnerable residents like Fidelma Gleeson, 70, can order bread and milk, and have her prescription medicines brought to the door.

“It’s absolutely fantastic that it’s delivered by drone. I thought I’d never see the day that that would happen, that I wouldn’t have to be getting into my car and going into town to collect it. So, it’s absolutely fantastic technology,” she said.

Mana, which partnered with food delivery giant Just Eat on the postponed university project, hopes to ultimately replace road-based delivery. 

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