— 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:

Test 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.

Prev