If you live in Outback Australia, your much-needed heart transplant could one day arrive by drone.
A new consortium hopes to find a role for the unmanned flying machines in delivering urgent medical supplies to remote communities.
The Australian RPAS Consortium (ARC), made up of eight groups with interests in the hardware, security and legal aspects of drones, including UAS International and the University of Sydney, launched its Angel Drone project Friday.
First up, they plan to trial a drone able to carry blood samples, president of the group, Ron Bartsch, told Mashable. “We’ve got a specifically developed medi-drone that has got an [incubator] in it, which ensures the blood is kept at the right temperatures and conditions,” he said.
One of Australia’s leading medical voices has also thrown his support behind the project.
Neurosurgeon Charles Teo told the ABC that drone trials carrying vital blood and organ transplants could begin within 12 months.
“Once the regulations are in place, and I think that’s a huge hurdle that we need to jump, then we’ll be able to transport not only specimens, but human tissue, human organs and even humans themselves through drones,” he said.
Mark Puterflam, commercial director of drone operators at the Aerolens Group, which is also involved with the Angel Drone trials, said there were plans underway to begin tests by the end of the year in the Northern Territory.
According to Bartsch, Angel Drone will also attempt a trial near Camden in New South Wales.
Peter Gibson, spokesperson for Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority, told Mashable he was not aware of any current application for trial approvals. “They have been in contact with us and we will support them with safety and regulatory advice and any appropriate approvals that may be needed,” he said.
Choosing the right machine for the job is also paramount. Puterflam said the group is looking at drones able to make deliveries in remote and isolated locations, as well as in heavily trafficked cities.
Everything is done professionally and cautiously, he added: “No one is going to take a risk with such an important initiative.”
For Angel Drone, the potential uses for the so-called medi-drones are vast, particularly in areas where it’s hard to find swift medical care.
“We’re speaking to some clients about the possibility of being able to use drones to send off anti-venom for snake bites, for instance,” Bartsch said. He recounted a story where a mining company employee in Papua New Guinea was bitten by a snake.
“When they had to send the anti-venom out from Port Moresby hospital it cost $80,000 to charter a helicopter,” he said. “It could be done safer and quicker by using drone technology.”