Drones Are Now Used To Deliver Medical Supplies

drone mountain

Delivering vital equipment and medicines is not always an easy process. It is especially complicated in harsh and far-flung areas where access to necessities is challenging at best. Additionally, locations under warzones or experiencing environmental disasters are almost impossible to reach with manned transport.

Due to these issues, drones are now being tapped as the next delivery method to bring medical supplies to where they are needed.

Blood Deliveries Using Drones in Africa

africa safari

Blood transfusion is one of the most common medical procedures in hospitals around the world. In modern cities, blood products are readily available that even paramedics have access to them right at the scene of disasters. However, hospitals and clinics located in remote and rural areas are often limited in resources, and blood supply is typically not available.

Zipline, a start-up based in San Francisco, has developed a drone technology that is being used by hospitals in Ghana and Rwanda to transport blood products during emergencies. Roads and infrastructures in these locations are often inaccessible to vehicles, especially during the rainy seasons. Floods can leave dirt roads closed off for days.

Using Zipline’s services, medical professionals can just make a call or send a message through text, email, or even WhatsApp to Zipline Headquarters requesting the needed supplies. Blood, platelets, and plasma are then safely packed in cardboard boxes. These payloads are then loaded to drones that can reach up to 100 kph in speed. It avoids common obstacles by flying over trees and buildings. Furthermore, it can withstand strong winds, rain, and lightning. 

These drones are programmed with specific flight paths and destinations to different medical institutions. They are developed to drop payloads in the same sports so medical personnel can find them easily. Paper parachutes are used to prevent further damage to the package during deliveries.

Zipline is now serving more than 2,400 health organizations and facilities across Ghana and Rwanda. The company has signed a deal with the Indian State Maharashtra, and their services are set to launch in the area in 2020.

Medical Aid in the Military

Medical supplies are difficult to transport in areas with political unrest. Civilians and military personnel often need these supplies to survive. A research collaboration between the US Army’s Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC), other military branches, academic institutes, and private organizations is now beginning to develop drones that can deliver medical and other supplies to wounded soldiers in active battles.

Drones can be used to ship vital supplies such as stitches, sutures, and even blood products to areas where soldiers or civilians are injured. Areas over inaccessible terrain or those under serious enemy threats can be impossible to access. These deliveries made by drones can be lifesaving, especially for first aid efforts before rescue arrives. 

Alongside developing drone technologies, the US Army’s MED-RAS is also creating artificial intelligence (AI) applications that can aid medics when another assistance is not immediately available. TATRC is also doing extensive research on robotic tools and devices that can assist in replacing lost fluids and medicate patients in critical care.

The combination of AI, robotics, and drone technology can minimize human involvement in rescue missions, which in turn decreases any further injuries and other risks.

Transporting Vaccines Betweens Islands in Vanuatu

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Vanuatu is a South Pacific nation composed of 82 remote islands spread across 1,300 kilometers. Needless to say, the delivery of medical supplies between these islands can be complex at best. That means essential vaccines that are readily available in some parts of the world are in limited supply in these areas.

In fact, one out of five children in Vanuatu does not complete their essential vaccinations due to the difficulties in delivering relevant supplies. One such area is Cook’s Bay, a small community without access to a health facility or even electricity. It can only be reached on foot or using a small boat. Additionally, the country’s tropical climate is not conducive to extensive storage of vaccines, which means delivery needs to be swift.

Vanuatu’s Ministry of Health and Civil Aviation is now working with the Australian Government and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria alongside UNICEF to transport vaccination supplies to the country’s islands.

Vaccines are packaged in Styrofoam boxes with ice packs to maintain a stable temperature. Additionally, an electric indicator is added inside the packaging that will trigger if the supplies reach a certain temperature. 

Swoop Aero, an Australian start-up, is the first company to take on the challenge of flying drones with such important payloads. Their heavy-duty drones can reach an altitude of up to 150 meters. It can fly steadily even during rain and winds of 30kph. It utilizes the Iridium satellite network, which means operators can pilot drones from any part of the world. Payment is only made when the packages arrive safely. 

Final Thoughts

Drones are set to solve some of the most challenging issues around the world. Traditional solutions may take years to implement, but with the use of drones, people living in war-torn or remote areas do not have to wait that long to receive the medical attention that they need.