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Author's profile photo Stephen Cloughley

Drones in Healthcare & Life Sciences

Much has been written about the impact of the panoply of new technologies in Healthcare and Life Sciences. Hardly a week goes by without our hearing of a new application of Artificial Intelligence or Machine Learning, which are still in their infancy in their impact across broad populations. Quietly, however, drone technology is being adopted in development countries in East Africa for delivery of critical medicines and supplies for isolated communities. The experiences are already applicable elsewhere.

We’ve seen developing countries such as Kenya, India and Tanzania adopt innovation faster than developing countries, precisely because the existing infrastructure that we all take for granted is not there. Where telephonic landline infrastructure was not available or was unreliable, cellphones are now ubiquitous. This rapid adoption has led to these regions leap-frogging developed countries in online banking and micro-payments.

Road infrastructure is another challenge, and drones can help. For widely-dispersed populations like the 30 million people who live in the world’s most densely populated rural area — the shores of the Lake Victoria basin – often the existing road infrastructure is simply dangerous and unreliable. One oft-quoted statistic is that Africa as a whole has 2% of the world’s cars but represents 20% of the world’s traffic accidents. Drones are now being deployed to speedily and safely transport blood and critical vaccines literally “flying over” the problem. Drones are in use today in this region, cheaply delivering to remote communities, not just on land but also on Ukerewe Island and other islands in Africa’s largest lake.

Closer to home here in the US, we’ve seen the interest in these pioneering moves yield great promise. Transplant surgeons often face the harrowing challenge of not being able to do a transplant due to lack of an organ. Work has been done with drones equipped with all the sensor equipment needed to safely transport living tissue (temperature, pressure, vibration, etc…). This has resulted recently in an initiative to demonstrate the successful transport of a kidney to the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. Interestingly, the extent of vibration suffered by the organ was less than that it would have suffered by using the more typical transport mode – a light turbo-prop aircraft.

Finally, we can expect to see a further use of drones as the number of climate-related disasters around the world continues to grow, enabling rapid and safe deployment of medical supplies to where they are needed.

How are you seeing drones being used in your Healthcare and Life Sciences organizations?


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