First Organ Delivery By Drone

A human kidney for transplant has been delivered by drone to a Medical Centre in Baltimore in the first flight of its kind.

Cutting Edge Technology

The drone transportation of the living organ over a one-mile journey used cutting-edge technology in the form of an AI-powered drone that had been specifically designed to maintain and monitor the organ during the journey. As well as having a specially designed compartment to keep the organ in the right condition for transplant, the drone had onboard communications and safety systems to enable a safe flight over densely-populated/urban areas, and a parachute recovery system in case the drone failed.

Collaboration

The drone’s creation was the product of a collaboration between the aviation and engineering experts at the University of Maryland (UMD), transplant specialists and researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM), and others at the Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland. Joseph Scalea, assistant professor of surgery at University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) who was one of the surgeons who carried out the transplant has also acknowledged the collaborative efforts of the surgeons, engineers, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the organ procurement specialists, the drone pilots, nurses at the hospital, and the patient.

Solves Problems

The ability to deliver transplant organs by drone solves the problems caused primarily by traffic problems identified by the United Network for Organ Sharing, which reported that in 2018 there were nearly 114,000 people on waiting lists, with 1.5% of organs not making it to the destination and nearly 4% being delayed by two hours or more.

Medical Sample Delivery Too

There has also been a recent report in North Carolina of a hospital, in partnership with UPS, using a drone delivery program to speed up the delivery of critical medical samples across a hospital campus, thereby cutting 41 minutes off the usual on-foot journey.

Potential

The fact that the organ drone flight and the transplant operation were safe and successful has led to the recognition of the potential of this method e.g. unmanned transportation of organs over greater distances, minimising the need for multiple pilots and flight time and addressing safety issues.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This world-first in organ transportation is an important first step in what could be (if proven to be safe and reliable over multiple flights) an important new technological improvement to the provision of life-saving medicine.

Business owners may also be thinking that if this can be done successfully with something as important and delicate as a human organ for transplant, this system could potentially be scaled up and used to ensure the fast, safe delivery of other items. Amazon, for example, has been testing delivery drones for parcels since 2013 with a view to making its ‘Prime Air’ service a regular reality in the future.

As shown by UPS’s involvement with medical sample delivery, other major delivery companies are also investing in drones and their potential to combat the challenges posed by traffic congestion and labour-intensive and time-consuming on-foot journeys.

Also, the US Federal Aviation Administration has just authorised Alphabet’s (Google’s) Wing Aviation to start delivering goods via drones later this year. This is the first time that the FAA has granted an “air-carrier” the certification for drone delivery of items such as food, medicine, and other small consumer products.

Drone transportation is clearly moving forward and starting to prove that it offers great potential in many different sectors in the not-too-distant future.

Posted by Andrew Sewell,

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