A donor’s kidney was delivered to surgeons at a US hospital using the drone, in the first flight of its kind. At 1 is on the 19th of April, a small drone took off from a parking lot in Baltimore holding a kidney in a cooler and flew three miles to land on the roof of the University of Maryland Medical Center.
The custom made drone also required additional technology such as onboard cameras and organ tracking, and communications and safety systems for a flight over an urban, densely-populated area. It also had a parachute recovery system in case the aircraft failed. The flight required special clearance from Aviation regulators and the police closed the streets it flew over at a height of 200 feet.
The recipient, a 44-year-old woman from Baltimore, had waited eight years for the transplant.”This whole thing is amazing. Years ago, this was not something that you would think about.” she says about the delivery method. “Delivering an organ from a donor to a patient is a sacred duty with many moving parts. It is critical that we find ways of doing this better,” said Joseph Scalea, assistant professor of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and one of the surgeons who performed the transplant. “ I believe we will start seeing more organ delivery by drones within the next three to five years”.
Joseph Scalea hopes for a future where drones would connect hospitals and airports, he says: “The next run could be over 30 miles, or 100. The distance is relatively unimportant. The most important part is, we were able to implement drone technology into the current system of transplantation and transportation”
Many see huge potential for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) delivering medical products, with some drones already doing so in Africa.
“There’s a tremendous amount of pressure knowing there’s a person waiting for that organ, but it’s also a special privilege to be a part of this critical mission,” said Matthew Scassero, part of the engineering team based at the University of Maryland. “This would minimise the need for multiple pilots and flight time and address safety issues we have in our field.”