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How to Fast-Track Disease Reduction Through UAV Deliveries

How to Fast-Track Disease Reduction Through UAV Deliveries

While starting a UAV delivery service akin to Amazon Prime Air in developing countries may not be practical – the locals, after all, likely wouldn’t use such a service – but what of UAV deliveries for medical needs? Several countries in Africa such as Uganda and Nigeria face a huge problem of addressing treatable diseases

While starting a UAV delivery service akin to Amazon Prime Air in developing countries may not be practical – the locals, after all, likely wouldn’t use such a service – but what of UAV deliveries for medical needs? Several countries in Africa such as Uganda and Nigeria face a huge problem of addressing treatable diseases such as malaria, which lead to millions of deaths every year. Getting vaccines and medications to the people in these remote regions is a very difficult task as there is basically no infrastructure such as roads or airports to aid in the deliveries. Using drones to get access to these remote areas may just immensely help in controlling disease.

This is not an untested idea. Matternet, a California-based company, has already tested the use of drone deliveries in impoverished countries such as Dominican Republic to send medical supplies and collect samples from remote regions to aid in disease control – two tasks that are extremely important in controlling disease. Matternet hopes to establish a network of ground stations that will allow automated charging and load delivery.

However, setting up such a system does have its share of critics. Some question the ability of current drone technology to safely handle contagious medical samples as a crash may possibly lead to a new area being exposed to the disease. Matternet itself admits that current technology is not completely immune to problems and out of a thousand flights, one may well result in a crash.

Yet this problem can be eliminated by using packing methods which prevent contamination in the case of a crash or by improving technology to make such crashes a thing of the past. This problem usually does not exist when the samples are transported over land as temperature-controlled medical containers help reduce the fragility of the samples. It is expected to take a few years for drones to gain such temperature controlled containers as well.

Another potential problem is the possibility of bad weather affecting the entire drone delivery network. Flying in bad weather is a very significant problem as almost none of the currently popular drones can be flown in rainy or windy conditions, especially with heavy payloads, and cannot detect oncoming bad weather at all either. Also, as almost none of them. That said, Airware, a drone autopilot company, is currently working with NASA to develop a system to identify bad weather ahead of the UAV in order to be able to reroute the drone to clear paths.

Also, even though it may seem that using a UAV to transport goods across large distances may be possible through setting up a network of charging stations, the time required for delivery will increase with the number of stops. This is due to the time required to charge each battery multiple times on a single stop. This problem can only be reduced if there is a way to swap batteries at the charging stations, which will reduce the stationary times by a huge amount. This is similar to what Tesla Motors is offering with its own battery swap program. Will someone apply this same technology to create a logistical components for accommodating a large number of batteries for each drone at every charging station?

Despite these challenges, it is easier to set up a drone delivery service for medical needs in a developing country as the governments in these regions are often much more willing to take risks in order to battle their problems. As a proof of this, Matternet faced few restrictions in implementing its vaccine delivery program in Africa, but is still battling with the FAA for approval for using its drones in USA. As such, it is a definite possibility that a developing country may get a UAV delivery service much ahead of others such as the United States.

Perhaps you’re already working on weather predicting software to help drones navigate safely. Or you’ve got a great idea for how to carefully transport dangerous medical components? If you’re working on these types of drone developments, we want to hear from you. Comment below or contact us to participate in an interview to feature your invention on DroneFutures.org!

Image via: US Army Africa

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