Whether delivering kidneys for transplant, vaccines, or other vital medical supplies, the future for drone use looks good.
The recent groundbreaking delivery of a kidney to a transplant patient by drone represents magnificent news on two fronts: 1) a critically ill individual received a necessary organ in record time, and 2) a new delivery method for vital medical interventions entered the arena.
The ten-minute drone flight from southwestern Baltimore to a nearby hospital has been hailed as a major milestone. The delivery was the result of a three-year collaboration project between engineers, physicians and researchers at the University of Maryland and the Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland (LLF), a non-profit donation organization.
“There’s a tremendous amount of pressure knowing there’s a person waiting for that organ, but it’s also a special privilege to be a part of this critical mission,” Matthew Scassero, director of the university's unmanned aerial test site, said in a statement.
Not only was the flight a world first, it’s also part of a growing trend of drones being used to improve the quality of medical services.
The notion of drones carrying drugs to people in rural areas or developing nations might seem futuristic, but it’s already happening.
An American startup recently launch a program in Ghana to widen access to much-needed medication through drone delivery. Zipline is working with the Ghanaian government to operate 30 drones from four distribution centers. It intends to run 600 flights each day to distribute vaccines, blood and medication to 2,000 health facilities. The scheme has been called the largest drone delivery network on the planet.
In another first of its kind in the United States, a hospital in North Carolina is using drones to speed up the delivery of critical medical samples across its campus for quicker diagnoses. WakeMed Hospital’s partnership with UPS has seen journey times for sample delivery reduced from a potential 45 minutes to just four.
The great news is that these new medical deployments aren’t just isolated occurrences. Zipline is also involved in a blood delivery program in Rwanda, while last year a baby on the Pacific island of Vanuatu became the first person to be given a vaccine delivered by a commercial drone. As commercial drone applications become increasingly widespread and sophisticated, more patients will be able to benefit from necessary items being delivered efficiently through the air.
“If we can prove this works, we can look at much greater distances of unmanned organ transport,” said Charlie Alexander, chief executive officer of The LLF, in a statement about the University of Maryland project. “This would minimize the need for multiple pilots and flight time and address safety issues we have in our field.”