In the coming months, test flights for emergency medical deliveries by drone will start between locations: Isala Hospital Meppel and Zwolle. Drone transportation can be faster, safer and cleaner than road transport and can contribute to healthcare by giving support in the right place at the right time. This is the first time in the Netherlands that a medical delivery drone flies over sparsely-populated areas
The development surrounding the use of drones for medical deliveries is in full swing. The Medical Drone Service (MDS) initiative comprised of ANWB, PostNL together with medical partners Erasmus MC, Isala, Sanquin, Certe and technology partners Avy and KPN are investigating the use of drones to transport urgent medical supplies, such as blood, medicines and diagnostic samples, to patients and healthcare facilities. The speed of drone transportation should contribute to healthcare by improving the care and service given to patients. Over the next three years the MDS will investigate how to fly safely and reliably.
Fast and efficient diagnostics
The use of medical delivery drones is in line with Isala’s ambition to continuously improve healthcare. When a blood sample is taken in Meppel for example, a scheduled-service by drone would help to quickly transport the blood for analysis to the lab situated in Zwolle. Being able to concentrate more complex or less common blood tests at one location can also be more efficient in the long run.
What will happen
Parts of the intended Meppel-Zwolle route will be tested until mid-2021. Exemptions for these test flights have been granted by the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (Inspectie Leefomgeving en Transport – ILT).
Flights will only happen during working days and will take place near the Isala location Meppel to Zwolle, landing in a meadow to the north of Zwolle. Flights will be operated over sparsely-populated and agricultural areas, covering a distance of 15 km. The last part of the journey to the hospital in Zwolle is in built-up areas and will be carried out at a later stage.
No medical goods will be transported during these flights. These flights will mainly serve as a means to gather important information for the further development of these services in the medical sector. This will help enable the realisation of a safe network of drones in the future.
Safety comes first on flights. The drone won’t fly over houses or farms and is equipped with various systems to ensure safety on the ground and when flying in airspace. The drone flies automatically, but flights are always monitored. Control of the drone can be taken over at any time. During test flights, the airspace is temporarily closed off to other air traffic. No flights are performed in bad weather.
The drone, specially developed by Avy – with a wingspan of 2.4 metres – is remotely controlled by a pilot on the ground and flies over KPN’s mobile network. The ANWB, which also flies the trauma helicopters and ambulance helicopter, performs the flight operation. The drone takes off vertically and continues the flight horizontally. It flies at an altitude of approximately 100 metres and at a speed of 75 km/hour. A flight between Meppel and Zwolle takes 15 to 20 minutes. The drone is electrically powered with low-noise pollution
Drones to be used for large-scale medical deliveries is currently being investigated. These test flights will be followed by an evaluation and further consideration will be given to how hospitals and other healthcare institutions can connect to this. Flying with the drone over uninhabited areas has already been tested extensively.