The very best of “drones for good” has been on-show after areas of Florida were devastated on September 28th by the Category 4 Hurricane Ian, reports

The residents of Sanibel Island, for example, were cut off from the Florida mainland after a section of its causeway bridge plunged into the Gulf of Mexico, leaving thousands of people stranded with only an occasional helicopter or barge delivering important supplies.

Yet, three U.S drone logistics companies, Zing, A2Z and Skyway flew to the rescue, and began transporting on-demand meals, portable chargers and other essentials to the island residents.

Ian Annase, CEO of Zing, comments, “Hearing about people stranded on the island made us realise there was an opportunity for our companies to help out by providing an expedited drone delivery service.”

Annase reached out to A2Z and Skyway to assist. The A2Z team quickly shipped a craft from California to Zing’s HQ. Skyway then arrived on nearby Pine Island to monitor the airspace.

Annase continues, “There are a lot of pieces required to make a drone delivery operation successful. First, exploring the area with the A2Z team and performing some test deliveries helped us identify what we needed. For example, we brought our own solar-powered generators for all computers and air traffic monitoring devices because there was no power on the island.”

Zing facilitated the deliveries by opening a phone line that customers could call to reserve a meal and confirm a pickup time. Meals were then prepared at a site on nearby Pine Island.

(Photo: Gerald Herbert/Associated Press)

From there, drones equipped with A2Z’s second-generation rapid delivery system (RDS2) picked them up and carried the orders across the water to a central drop-off point at 1177 Causeway Blvd. Unlike some delivery drones, the RDS2 craft can carry multiple meals at a time.

The system is also designed with safety and privacy in mind. Using a winch and tether, the RDS2 makes deliveries from about 100 feet up, keeping the aircraft away from people and other hazards.

Aaron Zhang, CEO of A2Z, points out, “With debris, dangling power lines, etc. cluttering delivery locations, it is important to drop off the payloads from altitude in order to keep spinning propellers away from any potential snags.”

The RDS2 can fly a 9 mile round trip. It’s billed as an “off-the-shelf” solution that is compatible with any retailer’s packaging, so long as it fits within the aircraft’s cargo hold.

While conditions on Sanibel Island have improved, the missions conducted by Zing, A2Z and Skyway are demonstrating how delivery drones can play an important role.

Ian Annase

Annase remarks, “We have learned a lot from the operation and proved that drone delivery can be deployed in disaster areas to assist relief efforts, especially to barrier islands that can only be reached by water or air.”

In addition to heavy traffic on the causeway, Sanibel residents are also contending with a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m curfew along with 20 mph speed limits across the island. That essentially eliminates an ability to get food on-demand unless it comes from down the street.

Yet, with delivery drones, rather than take a 40-minute round trip journey to gain their favourite food from the mainland, Sanibel residents can instead get it delivered via drone in a fraction of the time. And with this extra level of transportation, even damaged roads can’t sever a customer’s proximity to restaurants, grocery stores and other shops.

Zang continues, “Ian (Annase) and the team he pulled together for this hurricane relief effort all jumped to the ready to provide assistance. We are proud of the way this diverse group of volunteers have worked together at such short notice and made these deliveries happen.”

(Photo: A2Z Drone Delivery)

Two weeks ago, the causeway reopened to residents, but only with temporary repairs. Work to fix the damage is ongoing, where residents, businesses and private contractors can only use the bridge between Wednesday and Sunday at limited hours.

The ability and success of “drones for good” during natural disaster conditions has been proven, yet again.

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(Top photo: A2Z Drone Delivery)