• Lynn Moore

Turning Crisis into Opportunity: The Emerging Importance of Drones in a Pandemic World


During the global financial crisis of 2008, former President Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel famously remarked that, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste.” Clarifying Emanuel stated, “(Crisis is) an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.”

WakeMed had already been in full operation before the pandemic to move lab sample deliveries across the company’s three hospitals and eight outpatient facilities. WakeMed, one of Raleigh, North Carolina’s largest hospital systems, has been in partnership with UPS Flight Forward, Matternet, and the North Carolina Department of Transportation. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) awarded UPS Flight Forward the first full Part 135 Standard certification to operate a drone airline in October of 2019. As an article on Forbes.com notes “In the new age of coronavirus, where rapid testing is currently the critical difference between keeping America’s economy shut down and cautiously opening it back up, WakeMed’s program and the data it yields could have transformative consequences for grappling with the world’s next pandemic by eliminating the need to transfer blood and swabs by courier cars and Quest Diagnostic vans, thereby avoiding traffic, reducing accidents, and getting results faster.

The downstream advantages are quickly emerging in industries where social distancing and working remotely are critical. When construction sites in Pittsburg were shut down, virtually overnight, companies turned to drones for inspecting their projects remotely. They were able to maintain up-to-date inventory of their materials as well as document any damage for potential insurance claims.

In late February of this year, Marcus Acheson, an architect and studio principal at Little Diversified Architectural Consulting (Little), hired a consulting company called Aerial Analytics to conduct a LiDar (light detection and ranging) survey for his team’s proposal to win a two-tower development project in Raleigh, NC. This LiDar survey, which was typically performed by a helicopter crew is now flown by a remote unmanned drone. After the pandemic struck Acheson found himself rethinking what else drones could do for his business post-pandemic. Could site surveyors fly a drone rather than going to a given site? Could he work with contractors to monitor construction remotely – reducing exposure and minimizing risk?

If crisis really is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before, then the drone industry may be getting a huge boost in the midst of unprecedented times.

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