Zipline, a drone operator and logistics company, plans to partner with Magellan Health’s pharmacy unit to deliver medical prescriptions to homes in Charlotte, North Carolina, this year, helping to jumpstart the era of “routine” drone delivery. This delivery system could provide on-demand delivery, lessen vehicle traffic (and emissions), and improve safety, while also helping the environment. Zipline hopes to begin this service after a trial run is completed in Kannapolis, North Carolina, where the company has a distribution center serving local hospitals.

In locations such as Australia, Finland, and Africa, drones routinely deliver medicine and food, but in the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been working out the rules to govern drone use and safety in our crowded skies. With companies like Zipline and others testing these deliveries under the FAA’s approval, drone delivery will likely accelerate in the coming years. To highlight the capacity for drone delivery, in Logan, Australia, about 140,000 drone deliveries were completed by Wing in that city alone. In the U.S., in Christiansburg, Virginia, Wing made over 21,000 deliveries of coffee, food, and other items in partnership with local retailers and Walgreens. Last month, the most popular delivery item was at-home COVID tests.

Preceding Zipline’s medical prescription delivery by drone in North Carolina, Zipline recently started a delivery-by-drone pilot program with Walmart in Pea Ridge, Arkansas for packages weighing under four pounds. Zipline plans to open up another distribution center in Salt Lake City soon as well.

These medical deliveries by drone could greatly assist chronically sick individuals, who would be able to receive their medications much more quickly and conveniently, in addition to hopefully cutting down on ER visits or other high-cost interventions.  Drones could help the U.S. bring down the overall cost of health care by increasing access and efficiency.

In addition to Zipline’s plans for expansion this year, Wing plans to launch its Walgreens’ delivery service in Dallas, Texas, also this year. With drone delivery in a crowded, metropolitan city like Dallas, this could pave the way for extensive expansion for drone delivery across the country.