San Diego It’s a scenario repeated often in San Diego: a technician needs to send a vial of blood from the clinic where it was drawn to the lab for study.
UC San Diego Health and two California companies, Matternet and Airmap Inc., plan a twist on the blood sample’s otherwise unspectacular trip: instead of giving it to a courier with a motor vehicle, they plan to transport it by air, with a drone.
That is just one scenario being studied by teams in San Diego under the city’s three-year test with the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA wants more data on how it might better incorporate unmanned aircraft into the civilian airspace.
San Diego-based Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) is part of the local study, as is AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC).
Pilot Program Participants
San Diego is among 10 state, local, regional or tribal governments the FAA chose in May to take part in its Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program.
The program is just getting going and is still in an administrative phase, said Tiffany Vinson, San Diego City Hall’s point person on the project. It’s likely, however, that San Diegans could see food delivery by drone within the next three years.
Indoor tests will precede outdoor delivery, she said.
The many companies and entities taking part in the San Diego effort plan to study the delivery of packages across the U.S.-Mexico border (with oversight from the Department of Homeland Security) and how fire departments might dispatch drones as an early step in assessing an emergency call.
The partners plan to conduct test flights within five limited areas:
• An expanse of Otay Mesa at the U.S. Mexico border and Chula Vista. The latter city has dedicated specific property as a drone range;
• An area centered on Mission Bay, including Mission Beach, Pacific Beach and part of the Pacific Ocean;
• An area taking in downtown San Diego, Barrio Logan, a swath of San Diego Bay and a limited part of Coronado;
• An area encompassing San Diego State University, the College and Grantville neighborhoods, and part of Mission Valley; and
• An area around UC San Diego, Sorrento Valley and Sorrento Mesa.
The latter is where the medical deliveries — blood and pathology specimens — will take place.
Ideally, having a drone transport blood samples has the potential to cut down on emergency room wait times, said Vinson.
Any takeoff and landing sites as well as the flight route “will be fixed, protected and surveyed in advance of operations,” the city’s proposal to the FAA says. “After manually loading the system with necessary items, takeoff, navigation and landing are fully autonomous. The flights will be monitored in real time at a mission control center, giving operators the ability to intercede in case of abnormal conditions.”
Matternet, a partner in the project, offers technology for aerial delivery in urban areas; it is based in Silicon Valley. Airmap, which offers an airspace management platform for drones, is based in Santa Monica.
San Francisco-based Uber is expected to get involved in a food delivery venture, which could happen in all five areas. Under the scenario, a hungry person in the beach area might be able to order food from a taco shop in a different neighborhood. “Goods will be delivered from restaurants to either fixed droneports or mobile landing locations, with both options optimized for safety and efficiency,” the city proposal says.
Fire stations may start to dispatch drones after a receiving a call for service, Vinson said.
Cape is the Silicon Valley company working with emergency personnel to send video of incidents back to a command center. A company representative told the Business Journal in May that it plans to hire full-time workers in San Diego.