Rise of the Medical Drones

Drones are a hot topic, whether on the foreign policy front or as the next big thing in package delivery. Drones have become so widespread that the Federal Aviation Administration is expected to release federal rules on commercial drone use soon, keeping many enthusiasts on their toes.

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On the medical front, drone projects are also on the rise. The thinking behind medical drones is that an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) can get to places where doctors and aid workers can’t, whether it’s a country lacking medical infrastructure or a highly dangerous war-torn region. 

From the Netherlands to Palo Alto to Greece, entrepreneurs, inventors, and students are using drones to solve tough medical dilemmas.

Ambulance Drone Delivers a Defibrillator

Alec Momont, a graduate student at Delft University in the Netherlands, created the Ambulance Drone to help bring lifesaving technology (and instructions for how to use it) to where it’s needed most. 

“The idea came from changing the perception of drone technology, which is currently very negative,” Momont told Healthline. “The hole in the market I’m trying to fill is for remote areas that currently have disastrous response times of 20 minutes and more.”

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The Ambulance Drone is intended to speed up emergency response times for things like heart attacks and strokes to help reduce fatalities. Critical technologies like automated external defibrillators (AEDs), medication, and CPR aids could all be delivered, Momont believes.

The Ambulance Drone can deliver a defibrillator to any patient in about a 7.5-mile radius within one minute, and brings step-by-step instructions for someone on-site who can help.

Matternet Helps Doctors Cross Borders

Drones have the potential to be used not just in emergency situations, but also in extending the reach of available medical technology. 

Palo Alto- and London-based Matternet is working to build a drone-delivery system for those in low-income countries. Instead of having to wait for supplies to come by roads that may be blocked or might not even exist, a Matternet drone can deliver directly to areas in need.

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Matternet drones weigh less than 10 pounds and are expected to launch in early 2015, according to the company’s website. The drones have been field tested in Papua New Guinea with Doctors Without Borders, in Bhutan with the World Health Organization, as well as in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Parcelcopter Is Already in the Air

DHL, a German-owned shipping company, has joined companies like Amazon and Google in testing drone delivery systems. DHL has already tested drone delivery to the German island of Juist.

The Juist flight was the first authorized autonomous parcelcopter delivery flight in Europe. 

The DHL drone, or “parcelcopter,” can fly up to 40 miles per hour and is intended to deliver medication and other essential goods to Juist when other modes of transportation aren’t available. The parcelcopter is a quad-copter, weighs just over 11 pounds, and can carry about 3.5 pounds of cargo. DHL launched its parcelcopter research project in December 2013.

Photo courtesy of Matternet.