National University of Ireland Galway has completed a BVLOS diabetes drone delivery of insulin.
From Connemara Airport to Inis Mor on the Aran Islands, the drone was given special research permission from the Irish Aviation Authority to show the possibility of future deliveries of this kind with planned drone corridors.
The completion of the flight meant it became the first autonomous BVLOS Vodafone connected VTOL drone delivery of prescription medication and collection of patient blood sample for diabetes care.
The IoT connected drone delivery 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, Survey Drones Ireland, Wingcopter, Vodafone Ireland and global healthcare company Novo Nordisk, which Novo Nordisk, the world’s largest insulin manufacturer, supplied the glucagon and insulin for the mission.
Project lead, professor Derek O’Keeffe, professor of medical device technology, NUI Galway and consultant physician at Galway University Hospitals, said: “Climate change means that these types of severe weather events are becoming more prevalent. 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.”
He continued: “To date medical drones have demonstrated success, for example in delivering blood, defibrillators and human organs for transplant. 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 Heavy Lift, with insulated parcel delivery box for the payload, an all-electric vertical take-off and landing drone that transitions into an efficient forward flight once up in the air.
It reaches destinations of up to 100 km distance in less than an hour.
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 which allowed the connection of the primary cellular communications and backup satellite communications to be displayed, allowing the SUA Pilots on both sites to track the progress of the aircraft.
According to Steve Flynn, founder and CEO of Skytango: “It is imperative that we win the hearts and minds of the communities we fly over when it comes to drone operations and connecting stakeholders and tracking compliance is a step toward that.”
The launch team had a live FPV 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.
Debbie Power, IoT Country Manager, Vodafone Ireland, said: “Vodafone Ireland are delighted to partner with NUI Galway and other experts for this world-first BVLOS diabetes drone mission. At Vodafone, we are committed to connecting for a better future and in using our technology to improve people’s lives, regardless of where they live.”
Adding: “Our IoT network technology ensured the drone was contactable and connectivity thresholds were met and sustained throughout the flight, from ground level in Connemara to 130 metres across 18 kms of water, to landing on Inis Mór. The total flight distance covered on the first leg was 21.7 km, which included entering the correct air traffic sequence 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. The successful IoT connectivity allowed the flight to adhere to aviation regulatory standards and provides good evidence for further investigation into drone delivery corridor planning, as long range flights, like this one, can be mapped with our radio frequency network input.”