A new startup has launched a drone service in San Francisco to deliver prescribed medications to residents' doors within 15 minutes - including medical marijuana.

QuiQui (pronounced Kwi-Key) operates 24 hours-a-day and users only need to pay for the cost of their medication, plus a $1 (60p) delivery charge.

"We can't ring the bell, but we'll meet you outside," says the company's website, which explains that it has decided to launch the drone service in the Mission district of San Francisco as the lack of tall buildings and generally flat landscape makes it much easier for the flying drones to get around.

The company is working with local pharmacies in San Francisco to deliver your prescriptions and says it chose pharmacy items because they're typically very small and easy to transport. Carrying larger items would not be commercially viable it says.

Obviously there is a risk that potentially dangerous drugs could fall from the drones but QuiQui says that its drone have "patent pending software to mitigate their damage in the event of catastrophic failure" and if it should "accidentally drop your order in a tree, we can help you with that too."

FAA ban lifted

Could we one day get used to seeing helicopter drones fly around residential and city areas?
Commercial helicopter drones can be used in the US, for now Reuters

On 6 March, an administrative law judge for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) lifted a ban on the commercial use of small drones, which had been in existence for the last six years.

Raphael Pirker, the founder of a video recording company called Team BlackSheep that uses flying drones to capture footage, was slapped with a $10,000 fine by the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) in 2011 for using the drones at the University of Virginia.

The judge's ruling has overturned the fine and the FAA is not happy.

The FAA said in a statement: "The FAA is appealing the decision of an NTSB Administrative Law Judge to the full National Transportation Safety Board, which has the effect of staying the decision until the Board rules. The agency is concerned that this decision could impact the safe operation of the national airspace system and the safety of people and property on the ground."

QuiQui has been working on the technology for two years in the hopes that the FAA would one day change its mind and come up with a list of clear guidelines for commercial drones.

Drone open season

"We didn't expect the FAA to lose their lawsuit," the company said.

"Multiple members of our team are aviators and have great respect for the FAA and NTSB. They've done great work in making aviation safer not just in America, but all over the world. If they appeal and win, the team will abide by their rules and jurisdiction."

For now though it's open season, and QuiQui is trying to make sure that the Mission's residents are disturbed as little as possible.

"We understand that drones cruising around the neighbourhood may not be well received. We've worked extra hard to make sure our drones are quiet and respectful of the neighbourhood. For example, we avoid schools and parks on our flight paths," QuiQui said.

"Our drones have patent-pending software to mitigate their damage in the event of catastrophic failure. If you accidentally drop your order in a tree, we can help you with that too."