Opportunity in Crisis: Drones Fly Under the Spotlight

The Dublin-based drone delivery start-up Manna was set to launch a commercial pilot project this month – delivering takeaways to UCD students on the Belfield campus. For hungry students, this would mean their favourite food was only ever three minutes away.

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Unfortunately, the campus shutdown amidst the COVID-19 pandemic has meant putting the pilot on hold. But Manna founder and CEO Bobby Healy sees tremendous opportunity for drone technology at a time when many people are confined to their homes and relying on others to deliver vital medication and food supplies.

With its UCD plans up in the air – for now – the company is ramping up flight testing and seeking to learn valuable lessons from current circumstances. As the volume of online ordering of essential goods and services is increasing, so too is the level of risk associated with human-based delivery. There are logistical challenges involved in ensuring safe delivery while abiding by social distancing requirements, as well as the added complication of a reduced workforce due to illness. Could drone technology be the answer?

Healy believes so. Quoted in The Irish Times he says Manna’s focus has shifted, at least for now, from takeaways to delivering groceries and medicine safely. “If we do a delivery with our drone it goes under a UV light first which destroys any viruses and then the drone deliveries directly into someone’s garden, allowing the recipients to pick it up themselves,” he says.

The COVID-19 pandemic underscores the importance of technology, and companies such as Manna are responding rapidly to the shifting circumstances and demands.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Manna has been given the go-ahead to deliver medicines on a test basis to residents of Moneygall, County Offaly.

“Disruption is what suits start-ups,” Healy says. “It is what they thrive on. They can pivot quickly and that is definitely the case for us.”