Unmanned aircraft systems are already successful in many areas such as inspection, surveying, film, photography and agriculture. The project “Medifly Hamburg” set out to explore how unmanned aircraft systems can be used for medical transports, and to develop a commercially viable medical air transport service.
Where do we come from?
Surgeons may come across potentially pathological tissue during surgery. Samples of this tissue, also called instantaneous sections, must then be brought into pathology labs for analysis.
Nowadays, most hospitals don’t have their own pathology labs. The tissue samples are being transported to external labs by road with ambulance vehicles. For the duration of the transport and the subsequent pathological analysis the surgery is suspended, with patients being kept in anaesthesia during that time. The surgery is continued when the pathological results are available. The procedure may have to be repeated, when analysis results indicate that removal of pathological tissue was not complete.
Transport by road in an urban environment can impose significant and uncertain waiting time to the surgical procedure. In the actual case, the waiting time is twenty minutes at best. At worst, the surgical procedure must be ended prematurely, and then continued a few days later.
Direct distance by air between the operating room and the pathology lab is 5 km. In theory, an unmanned aircraft can make the distance in less than ten minutes, and the flight path is largely uncontested by other traffic. However, the transport takes place above a densely populated part of a metropolitan area, and the flight path does lie entirely in an air traffic control zone of an international airport.
Where are we going?
The project objective is to determine how to transport medical goods by unmanned aircraft in a reliable, safe, and commercially viable manner.
Activities in 2019, and early 2020, focused on demonstrations of safe flights under so-called extended visual line-of-sight conditions, where the unmanned aircraft is essentially on auto-pilot with remote pilots in the field observing the flight, standing by to exert control when necessary.
Subsequently, over the course of several months, the project is going to change the mode of operations from observers in the field, via remote monitoring and control, to completely automatic operations; all the time monitoring duration of flights, cost of operations, and availability of services, to assess commercial viability under the premises of patient health and flight safety.