The possibility of a planned drone corridor linking Galway’s islands and the mainland to be used for the delivery of critical medicines moved a step closer this week with the success of the inaugural mission.
NUI Galway and partners completed the world’s first autonomous beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS ), vertical take-off and landing (VTOL ) drone delivery of diabetes prescription medications (insulin, glucagon ) and collection of a patient bloodsample (HbA1c ) between Connemara Airport and Inis Mór on the Aran Islands.
The Internet of Things (IoT ) connected drone delivery was supported by the Irish Aviation Authority, operated in between commercial flights and was in contact with air space regulators at all times, showing the possibility of future deliveries of this kind within planned drone corridors.
The NUI Galway led #DiabetesDrone project was run in partnership with several industry experts and stakeholders including, Skytango, SurveyDrones Ireland, Wingcopter, Vodafone Ireland and global healthcarecompany Novo Nordisk.
Dr Kevin Johnson, University of Limerick provided expert insight into state-of-the-art drone technology and Dr Spyridoula Maraka, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, USA, outlined the health care delivery issues involved in this innovative project. Novo Nordisk, the world’s largest insulin manufacturer, supplied the glucagon and insulin for the mission.
It is crucial that people with diabetes have access to their lifesaving medicine at all times, which is often challenging in remote geographic regions and in times of natural disasters. Recent severe weather events, including storms Emma and Ophelia, demonstrated a clear need to develop the capability to deliver insulin and other critical medications (such as glucagon ) in times of crisis.
Project lead, Professor Derek O’Keeffe, Professor of Medical DeviceTechnology, NUI Galway and Consultant Physician, Galway University Hospitals, said that climate change means that these types of severe weather events are becoming more prevalent.
Importance in severe weather
“Individuals and communities in rural locations can become isolated for days after a severe weather event and an emergency may arise where patients can run out of their medicine.
“Therefore, it is incumbent on us to develop a solution for these emergencies, which addresses the clinical, technical and regulatory issues before a sentinel event occurs. To date medical drones have demonstrated success, for example indelivering blood, defibrillators and human organs for transplant,” he said.
This #DiabetesDrone project represents another milestone in the use of drones to improve patient care.” The drone supplied by Survey Drones Ireland was a Wingcopter 178 HeavyLift, with insulated parcel delivery box for the payload, an all-electric vertical take-off and landing drone that transitions into a very efficient forward flight once up in the air. It reaches destinations of up to 100 km distance in less than an hour.
“We at Wingcopter are excited to support Survey Drones Ireland in the implementation of BVLOS missions with our technology and experiences from projects around the world”, states Ansgar Kadura, Chief OperatingOfficer at Wingcopter GmbH.
The drone was launched from Connemara Airport using a combination of software - one for the pre-flight check list and one for the mission flight. The drone was connected via Vodafone Ireland’s IoT network and it flew a pre-planned flight path using Q Ground Control software.
This software allowed the connection of the primary cellularcommunications and backup satellite communications to be displayed, allowing the SUA Pilots on both sites to track the progress of the aircraft.
This is very important, as is the need to implement the BVLOS emergency procedures. Once airborne the whole flight was monitored by the SUA Pilots from Survey Drones Ireland and Wingcopter.
The Skytango software platform was used to manage checklists from all parties pre-launch and record the compliance of the operation from both anaviation and a medical regulatory standpoint, as well as informstakeholders of the launch in realtime.According to Steve Flynn, Founder and CEO of Skytango:
“It is imperative that we win the hearts and minds of the communities we flyover when it comes to drone operations and connecting stakeholders and tracking compliance is a step toward that.”
The launch team had a live FPV (first-person view ) camera feed from the aircraft to ensure a visual from the drone once it flew beyond visual line of sight for safety.
The second team on Inis Mór, Aran Islands, had a second ground control station with satellite telecoms so they could monitor the location of the drone to the destination, at the local airfield.
The total flight distance covered on the firstleg was 21.7 km, which included entering the correct air trafficsequence at both airports during take-off and landing. The return leg was slightly shorter, covering a total distance of 21.6 km. Both flights were completed on a single set of batteries and totalled just 32 minutes of flight time.
Dr Marion Broderick, General Practitioner on the Aran Islands, said drone delivery helps connectivity for island communities and hasendless possibilities.”Marion Hernon, a patient with diabetes on the Aran Islands, said insulin is essential for my survival and having a diabetes droneservice in an emergency situation would ensure this survival whileliving on an offshore island.”
Pauline Forde, a pharmacist in Staunton’s Pharmacy, Galway, said that it is extremely important that they have a way to deliver fridge medications such as insulin to patients in emergency situations which this drone delivery system allows them to do.”
For more information about the project, visit: www.diabetesdrone.comand on Twitter @DiabetesDrone #DiabetesDrone