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Drones deliver PPE to communities in Appalachian Kentucky

Posted at 9:54 AM, Dec 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-17 09:54:29-05

PERRY COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) — As the COVID-19 vaccine rolls out across the country, people are encouraged to continue following CDC guidelines and wearing Personal Protective Equipment. However, there are still parts of Kentucky where there's little access to these materials.

That's why the University of Kentucky Center of Excellence in Rural Health, Kentucky Homeplace, and the USA Drone Port partnered to explore the use of drones to deliver PPE to people in Appalachian Kentucky. With funding from the UK Center for Appalachian Research in Environmental Sciences, or UK-CARES, they started a research project known as the Jericho Project.

“To be on the cutting edge of research and something that is novel, to be able to push those results forward to affect future research is really exciting,” said Frances Feltner, director of the UK Center for Excellence in Rural Health.

After many months of research, Feltner and others behind the project are celebrating a win this week.

The first of ten PPE deliveries happened Tuesday in Hazard. The next delivery is planned for the beginning of January in Knott County. Researchers will get feedback from recipients and pilots about the deliveries and start slowly making changes, like adding weight to the packages and sending them out further.

Bart Massey, the executive director of the USA Drone Port, says they hope to eventually send drones to more isolated spots.

“The FAA, we have communications with them on a weekly basis,” said Massey. “What we're trying to do with them is to get it to where we're able through our patterns, methodologies and research is to be able to fly beyond a visual line of sight and go over that mountain and on the other side and deliver a package when it’s impossible to pass with regular means of transportation.”

Massey says they also plan to test other delivery mechanisms, like ropes lowering down the packages onto yards and parachutes.

“There is a lot of different testing we want to do besides just extending beyond the visual line of sight, but this is a perfect starting point for us,” he said.

Project leaders hope to build up to have at least three deliveries in the region per month. As they bridge some of the access gaps in rural areas, they see the potential this project has for delivering other necessary items, like medicine, post-pandemic.