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Medical supply delivery drones take to the skies

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New high-tech drones delivering emergency medical supplies are set to save lives across the globe.

Workhorse, a US technology company specialising in e-mobility solutions, has partnered with unmanned mobile medical delivery logistics provider Unmanned Systems Operations Group (USOG) to launch a pilot drone delivery program in San Diego, California, with the aim to deliver medical supplies.

USOG will utilise a Workhorse step van and Workhorse’s fully functional drone delivery system, HorseFly – a custom built, high-efficiency unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which is fully integrated with the company’s NGEN electric delivery vehicles as well as its legacy models through a cloud-based software system.

USOG personnel will be able to monitor multiple autonomous UAV flights. The system will also enable customers to track their deliveries in through a delivery app, receiving information such as package location and vehicle status in real-time, as well as onboard video.

The HorseFly system conforms to the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) standards for UAV operation in the United States and will operate in compliance within all FAA rules and regulations.

Initially, Workhorse and USOG will work together in the FAA’s unmanned aerial system (UAS) Integration Pilot Program (IPP) in San Diego. The companies aim to to pursue additional programmes for healthcare providers, pharmacies, and specialised medical courier services in the coming months.

Opportunity to save lives

“This partnership represents a game-changing opportunity the broader medical field, which could set a new standard for more effective and timely patient treatment options empowered by drone logistics,” says USOG Chief Executive, Pharns Genece.

“Workhorse has already delivered a complete system to us, and we are well-positioned to take advantage the FAA IPP program in the near term. Going forward, we will look to expand our work with innovative companies in one of the largest medical markets in the US,” says Mr Genece.

He believes that with Workhorse and its HorseFly system, USOG can save more through the secure and timely delivery of medical assets via unmanned systems.

“USOG’s vision is to enable nationwide medical deliveries by UAV, and we couldn’t think of a better application for our HorseFly system,” says Workhorse Chief Executive Duane Hughes.

“While we recognize the immediate benefits of utilizing our technology in such a vital application, we’re also excited about the possibilities these types of deliveries can represent across a variety of industries and use cases on a much larger scale,” adds Mr Hughes.usog workhorse

Drone deliveries in Australia

Drone deliveries is an ideal solution for those living in remote areas where access to medical care is not easy due to a lack of infrastructure, geography or inadequate storage facilities. Australian drone company Swoop Aero has identified this gap and seeks to deliver medical supplies to those in need.

“Inequalities in healthcare exist everywhere in the world, from Swoop Aero’s doorstep in Australia to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and beyond. One of the key drivers of this inequality is access; higher population density around high-quality facilities means a higher per cent of the population has access to quality healthcare.

“A dispersed population or poor-quality regional healthcare facilities mean lower quality care. The reasons for the low quality of healthcare received by some people in Australia and the DRC vary, but the outcome is the same,” explains Swoop Aero in a blog post.

Using drone technology can help to change this. “Setting up the networks to deliver these changes primarily makes sense when combined with tele-health services to deliver high-value medications, blood and pathology samples, that require specific transport and storage conditions, or for more generic medication when the need is urgent,” continues Swoop Aero.

Greater efficiency

“The benefit of using this solution is that deliveries can happen on demand, which optimises the supply chain and means that healthcare providers can give end-users better care, for the same or lower cost.”

Swoop Aero believes its drone technology can bring greater efficiency to health distribution.

Some of the benefits include; enabling pathology labs provide faster diagnoses and treatment; faster delivery and implementation of preventative medicines; on-demand delivery of vaccine, blood and cold chain medications to ensure guaranteed effectiveness; and the overall delivery of medical care which will allow hospitals to optimise their supply chains and generate savings.

In August 2019, Swoop Aero began delivering vaccines in Africa and late last year it participated in a trial to deliver vaccines to South Pacific Ocean nation Vanuatu.

The company received a substantial investment from Tempus Partners and Right Click Capital in August 2019. The total sum is undisclosed but will be used to by Swoop Aero to launch its drone venture in Australia, New Zealand and East Asia, hoping to scale operations in 2020.

Start of an era

Drones are slowly gaining traction in the medical industry. Independent drone delivery service provider Flirtey has also established drone deliveries in Australia and New Zealand. It has delivered everything from medical supplies to food and drink.

Flirtey has partnered with NASA, Johns Hopkins University of Medicine, Remote Area Medical, New Zealand Land Search & Rescue to conduct deliveries of medicine to rural healthcare clinics as well as ship-to-shore deliveries of medical samples.

Flirtey is to launch the first automated external defibrillator (AED) drone delivery service in the US. 

Likewise, the Australian Aviation Safety Authority as approved Wing Aviation to operate drone deliveries in North Canberra, ACT and Logan, Queensland. Currently Wing delivers food, drinks and hardware. Its goals are to deliver food, medicine and other items.

In late October 2019, Wing began delivering packages, over-the-counter medicines, snacks and gifts in Southwest Virginia’s New River Valley.

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