One of these days, “zapping” among the television channels, I saw the call of a Fantástico report about the use of drones to transport human organs. Unfortunately I could not watch it, but decided to look forward to to knowing more about it.
In the report it was shown a case of drone use in the United States, in the city of Baltimore, transporting a kidney to a hospital, where a patient was waiting for it to be transplanted. It may seem even simple to carry an “object” from one place to another. However, in this case it took the involvement of several professionals, including doctors and engineers, to ensure that the organ reached its destination in full condition to be transplanted. For this, it was necessary to control the temperature of the container where the organ would be transported and the drone movement control so that the organ would not suffer any sudden movement that could damage it.
Ok, but is that all we can use a drone for in healthcare? The answer is: no! By doing some research on the internet, I could learn that this technology can be used in three ways (see picture below): in the transport of objects, in medical care and in search or rescue.
In the transport of objects
In this form drones are used simply to transport objects. One example of this type of use is the one previously mentioned, the case of organ transport. Other examples are the transportation of medicines, biological samples (such as blood, urine and feces), antidotes, medical supplies (such as gauze, cotton, antibacterials, among others).
In most cases a certain level of packaging of the item to be carried is necessary, except in the case of medical supplies, which are mostly non-perishable items.
I believe that the biggest challenges in this type of application were the same that Baltimore case faced: ensuring the proper temperature for transporting the items and also smooth drone navigation to avoid damaging the object. In addition, another concern should be to ensure that the control and autonomy system is redundant, where in case of any failure of the main system, a backup system can be triggered. Similar, but not so complex, to what happens in airplanes, where it is necessary to ensure that at least one engine is always running so that the plane does not crash. Could you imagine something happening to an item as precious as a human organ?
There are some researches on transport of objects inside the next hospital complex or even within the same building. For this type of application, it would be necessary to plan the delivery routes of the drones, since in cases of indoor environments, the drone would not have access to the GPS system.
This is a case of drone application that is still quite incipient. These are cases of use to assist the care of patients who are not hospitalized, but that require closer care of health professionals. With the drone, it would be possible for a nurse to collect the patient’s material and send it to the analysis laboratory so that the doctor could remotely follow the patient. The drone would also be used to send medication to the patient, which the doctor would prescribe and the drugstore would send it straight to the patient through the drone.
In searches and rescues
This is a type of application that is already being used in rescuing people in disasters. In these cases, drones are used to find victims amid the wreckage, bring supplies (such as water and food), basic medicines and medical supplies to places where access is difficult. Often for such supplies to reach victims in the traditional way, such as cars and helicopters would take a long time, in which case a drone would be more agile.
There is also the case of lost people in hard-to-track locations where the cost of searching for land was very complex and airborne with helicopters, for example, would be too expensive, so in these cases using Drone would be of great value.
Finally, one application that I personally could meet its need was during an adventure race. Almost a year ago I participated in the “28 Beach Challenge” in Ubatuba. In the course of this race, which was a total of about 40km, there were very bumpy stretches, which in many of them it was necessary to “run” holding on a rope or climb super-steep mountains. During the course, one of the participants had an accident in the middle of the woods, a difficult place for ambulances and even paramedics. In this case, the drone could be used to monitor the course of the race and, in the event of an accident, bring a first aid kit or some other small equipments for the participant himself to use or have help from others nearby.
And how is this market going?
The market in the area is not very large yet, but it has great potential. There are already several companies that provide these services, none of them Brazilian, unfortunately. Some examples are: Medical Drones, Zipline, AirAid, Flirtey, Swoopaero, WingCopter, Wing, HiRO and Matternet.
Talking a little more about the companies, Zpline has partnered with the Rwandan government, where drugs and medical supplies will be delivered to the country’s various medical facilities using drones. And AirAid is a startup that proposes to deliver blood bags, medical supplies and vaccines to rural areas of India and Nepal.
Here at the company where I work, Venturus, we have already developed several projects using drones. One of those that was done a few years ago was a project where the goal was to be able to control a drone through the control of the PS4 and with smart glasses to be able to view data about the flight, the route it is taking and the images it was taking from the camera attached to it. In this case it was not a specific health project, but it was a very interesting project to be able to work with the technology and to learn to use it.
That said, I believe we have a very promising market to be explored, especially here in Brazil, where this type of technology has not been widely used for these purposes and which we, as a huge country, would have made a lot of gains in this type of technology, a We could reach more quickly and easily in different corners of the country.