Native American-owned technology firm ZappCare and drone developer MissionGo successfully carried out demonstration flights using an MG Velos 100 unmanned aircraft, at the Navajo Veterans Memorial Park on 22 January.
The initiative successfully simulated four deliveries containing food, medicine and emergency items at a demonstration attended by Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer, alongside officials from the two companies.
The drone, designated Healing Eagle Feather, is integrated with Zappcare’s digital telehealth platform. It is hoped that the technology will eventually be rolled out across the Navajo Nation to provide deliveries of medical supplies and other essential items to residents, particularly in remote areas.
The aircraft has a maximum carrying load 6.4kg and can operate within a flight radius of over 30km. The drone is also equipped with solar-powered technology and live video equipment and can follow automated flight paths in varying weather conditions.
The Navajo Nation was put under strain during the coronavirus pandemic
It is hoped that the implementation of a system of automated drones will substantially improve access to vital resources across the Navajo Nation as the technology is rolled out, enabling quicker emergency response times while consuming fewer resources.
The Navajo Nation’s population consists of around 300,000 people, spread across a 69,930km2 reservation - a land area larger than the Republic of Ireland. However, the region suffers from poor transport connections in its more remote areas, and many Navajo lack utilities and live in communities hours away from modern medical facilities by land vehicle.
The nation, which is located across parts of Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico, faced serious strain on its resources after experiencing one of the US’s highest per-capita rates of infections and deaths during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. The crisis caused the nation to close its borders to outsiders, including supply trucks, to reduce the spread.
Following the onset of the crisis, the Navajo received aerial support from the Veterans Medical Leadership Council in partnership with helicopter manufacturer MD Helicopters.
MD Helicopters ultimately flew 52 aid missions for over a year, delivering more than 18,144kg of supplies across the Navajo Nation and was awarded the Helicopter Association International’s 2022 Salute to Excellence Humanitarian Service Award for its work.