The successful test, which was performed in front of FAA representatives, puts the company on track to start sending consumer products - including Fed Ex packages - plus medical equipment and supplies by air.
"This program runs us through the end of 2020, so we expect that we'll be regularly saving lives and improving consumer lifestyles through drone delivery in Reno even before that," Sweeney said. "We're talking less than 24 months."
Flirtey joined forces last year with the City of Reno and partners such as AirMap and Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority to apply for fast-track designation under the FAA and Department of Transportation's federal drone testing initiative. The Flirtey group was one of 10 applicants from across the country selected in the highly competitive pilot program, beating out a competing application from the state of Nevada that included heavy hitters such as Amazon.
The selection allowed Flirtey to receive a waiver from the federal government to do the multi-drone test, which demonstrated that one pilot can successfully control several drones. The test is an important achievement because it shows that drone delivery can be easily - and safely - expanded, Sweeney said.
The test used Flirtey's newest next-generation drone, which can carry heavier payloads for longer distances. The company demonstrated delivery of automated external defibrillators during the test to show the life-saving potential of drone technology in addition to its commercial applications.
The life-saving uses of drones also can include disaster relief, particularly for helping people who might be stuck in areas that responders and rescue workers can't easily access.
"Once we have this drone infrastructure in place, we can work with our partners to deliver water, food and medicine to people who need it when you have a natural disaster and roads are down," Sweeney said. "You can have drones positioned to fly in from rooftops and deliver insulin, so it has the potential to leapfrog traditional emergency services and save lives."
The life-saving applications of the technology were touted by Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve in her statement following the successful multi-drone test. "The City of Reno is proud to partner with Flirtey, the FAA, and our local IPP partners to test drone delivery of AEDs to Washoe County residents," Schieve said. "Public safety is our top priority, and the use of drones to provide life-saving AED technology to cardiac patients could reduce the number of deaths from cardiac arrest in northern Nevada."
The goal is to start offering delivery by drone in Reno and expand it across the country. Flirtey has a partnership with FedEx, for example, that will allow the company to deliver packages by air or have its drones ready to go from FedEx locations.
If the fast-track program continues to go smoothly, the days of having pizza, Slurpees and defibrillators delivered by drone could come much sooner than most people think. Sweeney offered a simple description when asked what phase drone delivery is at. "Crawl, walk, run, fly is what we call it," Sweeney said. "We're definitely past crawl."