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Reno Will Deliver Medical Devices By Drone

A Flirtey drone flies during a test
Flirtey/CC 3.0
A Flirtey delivery drone during a 2014 test flight.

Reno will soon see the use of commercial drones to deliver medical devices. The biggest little city will take part in a nationwide pilot program meant to test out the use of commercial drones -- think drones delivering packages. 

The new program would allow drones to be tested in ways previously banned, including flying at night, or flying over people. In Reno, the city and ambulance service provider REMSA would partner with drone company Flirtey to deliver defibrillators, medical devices crucial to saving heart attack victims. 

It's something Flirtey CEO Matthew Sweeney says could be a lifesaving change.

"Based on the historical cardiac arrest data that we have seen, on average, one Flirtey delivery drone in the City of Reno equipped with a defibrillator could save one life every two weeks."

Sweeney says flights should begin within the next 90 days, though initial flights will start in the rural, outlying areas beyond Reno before pushing closer to the city and its suburbs.

It's new territory for drones, but acting FAA administrator Daniel Elwell says safety is still the agency's top priority.

"Our job, our role is to let innovation happen, to let it happen and enable it in a way that doesn't diminish safety, that maintains the safety in the skies that we have today."

One of the main safety concerns for increased drone activity is mid-air collisions. Alexander Harmsen is the CEO of Iris Automation, which makes a specialized camera system that will be used on these drones to avoid collisions.

"Using this visual technology, we're able to see the same things that a pilot is. You just need to build a software behind it to be able to interpret what that camera and the system sees. And so that's what we've been able to do."

Reno is one of ten sites chosen for the FAA program nationwide.

Jacob Solis is a senior at the Reynolds School of Journalism.

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