Clinical laboratories continue to test sample delivery by drone as a viable alternative to ground transport
In Switzerland, another clinical laboratory drone delivery service recently launched and it has several unique capabilities. This new pilot project to test the delivery of medical laboratory samples by UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle, aka drone) is being conducted by the Dr. Risch laboratory group and start-up drone company Jedsy.
What makes the Risch/Jedsy drone delivery service unique when compared to other drone delivery services is their drone’s capability to deliver directly to windows, regardless of where that window is. This, according to a Jedsy news release, “makes the transport of samples faster and more environmentally friendly.”
Dr. Risch group has 14 clinical laboratories and eight sample collection locations throughout Switzerland. The Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA) approved Dr. Risch’s first flight between its lab in Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein, to its lab in Buchs St. Gallen, sUAS News reported. Risch began transporting lab samples between those locations on an experimental basis in December of 2022.
The Jedsy glider, as the drone is called, has a distinctive vertical takeoff, hover, and landing capability. Once it achieves a safe altitude, it transitions to forward flight and can travel at speeds up to 150 kilometers per hour or about 93 miles per hour.
All systems on the Jedsy drone are redundant and developed to be fail-safe. A human drone operator follows the flight visually via a livestream connection. Once the drone approaches a building for landing, with the exception of the docking station the entire surrounding area is blurred to ensure the privacy of nearby individuals.
The Jedsy Glider (above) is quieter than other multicopters, according to Jedsy, and is able to dock outside a window or balcony. This enables the convenient loading and unloading of clinical laboratory specimens in any type of weather. The docking station also serves as a charger for the drone’s battery to ensure the craft is available for use at any time. Similar medical laboratory sample drone delivery services have been tested in Switzerland but none with Dr. Risch Labs’ unique window delivery option. (Photo copyright: Jedsy.)
Why Transport Clinical Laboratory Samples by Drone?
“The last two years during the COVID-19 pandemic have shown convincingly how important this service is for the healthcare sector,” explained the medical laboratory group’s founder and CEO, Martin Risch, MD, in the Jedsy press release.
Risch envisions a need for drones in certain medical situations. Dr. Risch currently employs about 50 courier drivers who transport by ground medical samples to regional medical laboratories throughout Switzerland every day.
“If, however, the courier vehicles are stuck in traffic or if they are driving during rush hour, the planned daily routine regarding the analysis and the medical diagnosis is delayed. We hope that this will allow us to offer an even better service, which will ultimately benefit the patients,” Risch stated.
Jedsy has already utilized its glider drone successfully in Africa to deliver laboratory specimens and medicines to remote locations and looks forward to its continued benefits.
“With the new drone, we have already gained important flying experience in Malawi, where over 5,000 flights have been performed as part of the UNICEF drone corridor,” said aerospace engineer Herbert Weirather, founder and CEO of Jedsy, in the press release. “Health centers have already been supplied with critical medicines by Jedsy and the service is being expanded continuously,” he added.
Use of Drones to Deliver Clinical Laboratory Samples Growing Worldwide
Utilizing drones to deliver medical supplies and laboratory specimens is not a new concept and has been tested several times in the past. Dark Daily has previously reported on some of the projects that have been attempted.
The use of drones to deliver clinical laboratory specimens is a rising trend that could be extremely beneficial for healthcare systems, medical professionals, and patients. A number of clinical laboratories in the US and around the world have initiated drone pilot programs, however, there has been little follow-up press coverage about either the success of these efforts or whether they continue to operate.
Nevertheless, faster delivery of laboratory specimens can lead to more timely diagnoses which can potentially lead to better patient outcomes. In the future, it’s likely more clinical laboratories will receive specimens via drones.
Drone program will enable delivery of medical laboratory samples during the day, rather than just at night, allowing daytime sample processing that will increase efficiency and shorten time to results
Healthcare network clinical laboratories continue to explore the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones, to safely deliver medical supplies and clinical laboratory specimens between locations. Dark Daily has covered several similar pioneering drone programs taking place around the world in recent years.
The latest medical laboratory company to launch a drone delivery program is Interpath Laboratory, an independent full-service medical laboratory in the Pacific Northwest.
In partnership with Arizona-based Spright—the drone division of Air Methods, a patient transport company with 300 bases in 48 states—Interpath recently announced the launch of its drone delivery pilot program for delivering lab testing specimens from Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center to Interpath’s medical laboratory in Pendleton, Oregon.
The two organizations hope the initiative will expedite the turnaround time needed for test results, thus allowing for timelier diagnoses and improving patient care and outcomes.
Replacing Automobile-based Medical Laboratory Specimen Delivery
“If this pilot program is successful and we are able to utilize this service, our patients have the opportunity to benefit from more rapid test results and access follow-up medical procedures and services,” stated Aaron Hines, CEO of Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center in a press release. “This project could help us further our mission of providing high-quality, primary healthcare for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR).”
Currently, patient samples taken throughout the day at various Yellowhawk facilities are picked up and delivered to Interpath’s clinical laboratory in the evening via gasoline-powered vehicles. A successful drone service would allow lab test specimens to be repeatedly picked up and delivered to the lab for analysis throughout the day.
“Medical laboratory services in rural areas frequently must invest intensive time and resources into sample pick-up,” said Tom Kennedy, president of Interpath Laboratory, in the press release. “We anticipate Spright’s drone delivery service will alleviate many of the drawbacks and costs associated with automobile-based delivery. This initiative represents an example of our embrace of innovative solutions that provide more efficient and effective services to our clients.”
Other Clinical Laboratory Drone Deliver Programs Worldwide
Innovative approaches, such as the utilization of drones to make clinical laboratory specimen deliveries, can help circumvent many of the challenges in delivering healthcare to rural areas. But UAV delivery networks work equally well for faster specimen transferals in urban environments as well, leading to timelier diagnoses of diseases and ultimately to better patient outcomes.
Goal of university’s yearlong CHURP test was to validate the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly known as drones, in the delivery of medical supplies across SUNY’s campus
Just as hospital systems worldwide are exploring the feasibility of using drone technology to deliver clinical laboratory specimens and medical supplies between healthcare settings and medical laboratories, SUNY Upstate Medical University also has joined the growing list of healthcare providers that have added unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, to their specimen/supplies delivery services.
Traditional delivery of similar items normally takes about seven minutes. The drone delivered the same test kit in just two minutes, according to Government Technology(GT).
Then, “To prove that drone deliveries can be scaled up, the team conducted more medical deliveries in three locations throughout Syracuse two weeks ago, sending supplies from the hospital to a medical laboratory, from the hospital to a surgery center, and from a pharmacy to a second hospital,” GT reported.
Tony Basile, Chief Operations Officer at NUAIR, told GT the flight was a “proof of concept demonstration to show that medical deliveries can be made by drone when speed is essential, such as when tissue samples taken from a surgery patient must be delivered rapidly to a laboratory in a different building.”
Special FAA Waiver Allows Drone Flights Over Certain People
The FAA’s 107.39 waiver allows a drone operator to fly over people who are not participating in the operation and over those who are not covered under a structure or within a stationary vehicle. The January flight marked the first time the FAA’s 107.39 waiver was used for such a drone operation, a DroneUp press release notes.
The SUNY and the NUAIR alliance began formulating the concept of using drones to make medical deliveries more than a year and ago. At that time, there were concerns that a nearby highway project would disrupt normal clinical laboratory specimen delivery operations. The highway separates the hospital from a surgery center and finding a way to expedite deliveries despite slow traffic was essential, GT reported.
“They’re not going to want to wait 20 minutes for a tissue sample to get to the lab because the highway is coming down,” Basile told GT.
Challenges Encountered with Drone Delivery of Clinical Specimens and Supplies
In late spring, the team conducted additional deliveries to further prove the efficacy of using drones to transport medical supplies. They successfully transported supplies via UAV from the SUNY hospital to a clinical laboratory, from the hospital to a separate surgery center, and from a pharmacy to another hospital in the area.
In 2018, Dark Daily reported on automated logistics company Zipline’s use of fixed-wing drones called “Zips” to provide on-demand access to vital blood supplies in Rwanda and Tanzania. The Silicon Valley company transported more than 5,500 units of blood in 2017 to 12 regional hospitals from a base in the east of Rwanda, reported The Guardian. Zipline began operating in the African nation in 2016 and quickly cut blood delivery time from four hours to an average of about 30 minutes.
Although not all drone delivery flights end in success, these projects clearly demonstrate how safe and reliable drone delivery of medical supplies and clinical laboratory specimens could one day be beneficial to medical communities.
Such drone deliveries will likely help medical professionals expedite diagnoses and treatment options for patients, especially in remote areas where land transportation would be much less timely.
Service uses ‘hub-and-spoke’ routing model to provide rapid delivery of time-and-temperature-sensitive clinical laboratory specimens and supplies
Drone delivery service in healthcare is beginning to take flight both here and abroad, with California-based Matternet launching medical drone delivery networks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Berlin, Germany.
The successful use of unmanned aircraft to deliver patient specimens has major implications for clinical laboratories. When conditions allow them to fly, drones can significantly shorten delivery times of routine patient specimens such as blood and urine.
The drones will fly two routes and carry scheduled deliveries of specialty infusion medicines and personal protective equipment (PPE). Because infusion medicines are patient-specific, high cost, and have a short shelf life, delivery by drone within 10 minutes is an ideal solution, Matternet said in the news release. Individually compounded medicines also will be delivered on-demand for dispensing to patients who need real-time access to treatments.
Matternet has been operating in the US since August 2018. In, “WakeMed Uses Drone to Deliver Patient Specimens,” Dark Daily’s sister publication, The Dark Report, reported how—following a two-year trial period using a quadcopter to deliver patients’ samples from a physicians’ office satellite lab/draw station to the WakeMed Medical Center’s central lab—the North Carolina healthcare system, in partnership with UPSFF, completed the first successful revenue-generating commercial transport of lab supplies by drone in the US at WakeMed’s flagship hospital and campus in Raleigh, N.C.
Bala Ganesh, a Vice President of Engineering at UPS, said UPSFF, which was launched in July 2019, is focused on healthcare deliveries. To make drone deliveries commercially viable, both “criticality” and an industry’s “willingness to pay” are important, he said. “We never looked at delivering pizza,” he told Forbes. UPSFF is the first company to receive the FAA’s Part 135 certification (package delivery by drone).
BVLOS Drone Delivery of Clinical Laboratory Specimens in Europe
Last year, Matternet launched the first beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS)-operated medical drone network in Europe. Its unmanned aircraft will be flown without the requirement that a pilot always maintain a visual line of sight on the aircraft.
Matternet launched its BVLOS operations at Labor Berlin, Europe’s largest hospital laboratory, which includes facilities in 13 hospitals across Berlin.
“We continue to expand drone delivery operations around the world with a focus on urban environments,” said Andreas Raptopoulos, Matternet Founder and CEO, in a press release. “Hospitals and laboratories in densely populated cities like Berlin need fast and predictable transportation methods that avoid urban congestion. We are thrilled to partner with Labor Berlin and look forward to streamlining their diagnostics work to the benefit of Berlin’s hospitals and residents.”
According to the press release, Matternet’s drone delivery network will transport samples from hospitals to Labor Berlin facilities up to 70% faster than ground courier services, as well as reducing vehicular traffic and emissions in Berlin’s urban core. Currently, more than 15,000 samples are transported daily across Labor Berlin’s healthcare system.
Will Drone Delivery of Clinical Laboratory Specimens Become the New Normal?
“I think that this is the wave of the future,” Atrium Health Senior Vice President Conrad Emmerich, who previously served as Senior Vice President, Business Services, at Wake Forest Baptist Health, told Fox 8 News.
It’s certainly beginning to look as if drone delivery as a viable alternative to traditional transport methods is taking off (pun intended). Since 2017, Dark Daily has published 10 ebriefings on drone delivery systems for healthcare being trailed worldwide.
Since the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, regular transporting of clinical laboratory specimens and supplies by drone could reduce transit times between hospitals and clinical laboratories and lower laboratory specimen transportation costs.
Hospital administrators and medical laboratory executives may want to keep tabs on the expansion of such services into their regions. There may be opportunities to improve clinical outcomes and patient satisfaction.
Boston-based American Robotics is approved to operate its Scout unmanned aircraft in rural areas and below a certain altitude, achieving a milestone that may allow the industry to ‘truly take off’
Routine drone delivery of clinical laboratory specimens and medical supplies moved a step closer to reality with the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) green light to American Robotics (AR) to operate its fully automated drones without on-site pilots or on-the-ground spotters.
The Massachusetts-based company becomes the first drone operator to receive an FAA Certificate of Waiver, allowing it to operate its unmanned aircraft “beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) of the remote pilot in command.”
According to a news release, “Prior waivers and certifications awarded by the FAA required visual observers (VOs) stationed along the flight path to keep eyes on the airspace at all times, or required other burdensome restrictions such as infrastructure masking. … With this approval, American Robotics’ Scout System is now the first drone technology allowed to continuously operate without this costly human requirement.”
The FAA is restricting American Robotics’ operations to specific rural areas and at altitudes below 400 feet, with a maximum takeoff weight of 20 pounds, The Hill reported. Nevertheless, should AR’s automated Scout System prove safe, pilotless drones may soon be delivering clinical laboratory specimens and supplies to remote areas as well as to more densely populated hospital systems.
The FAA’s Certificate of Waiver is effective until January 31, 2023.
A New Era of Drone Delivery for Hospitals and Clinical Laboratories
Even with the restrictions, the FAA’s decision moves the commercial drone industry ever closer to routine transport of medical laboratory specimens and medical supplies by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).
“With these approvals, American Robotics is ushering in a new era of widespread automated drone operations,” Reese Mozer, CEO and co-founder of American Robotics, said in the news release. “Decades’ worth of promise and projection are finally coming to fruition. We are proud to be the first company to meet the FAA’s comprehensive safety requirements, which had previously restricted the viability of drone use in the commercial sector.”
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported that the FAA’s decision signals the agency’s “broader effort to authorize widespread flights by shifting away from case-by-case exemptions for specific vehicles performing specific tasks.” According to the WSJ, the FAA’s approval documents state that American Robotics’ proposed operations will provide the agency with “critical data for use in evaluating BVLOS [beyond the visual line of sight] operations from offsite locations.”
FAA Approval a ‘Game Changer’
In its quest to receive FAA approval, American Robotics completed a four-year testing program around its Scout line of UAV products. According to the company, Scout systems flew as many as 10 automated missions per day in 2020 for industrial and agricultural customers in multiple states capturing a variety of advanced data.
The Scout system addresses safety concerns by using acoustic detect-and-avoid technology to maintain a safe distance from other aircraft while also avoiding birds or other potential obstacles.
“The commercial drone industry is growing quickly and providing significant benefits to the American public, but enabling expanded operations beyond visual line of sight is critical for the industry to truly take off,” Lisa Ellman, JD, Partner at Hogan Lovells and Executive Director of the Commercial Drone Alliance, said in the news release.
“Automated beyond visual line of site operations are particularly important to opening the commercial sectors to the drone economy, including the agriculture and industrial verticals. Key to these operations is the use and FAA acceptance of new and innovative safety technologies, such as detect and avoid sensors and software-enabled automation.”
The agricultural and energy industries are seen as key beneficiaries of this latest FAA action. Lance Ruppert, Director of Agronomy Marketing and Technology at Growmark Inc., a leading US grower cooperative, calls the American Robotics’ approval a “game changer.”
“Our interest in American Robotics’ technology started with the desire to have a drone imagery solution that was reliable, scalable, and executed with minimal human resources,” Ruppert said in the news release. “This technology, along with the FAA approvals to operate it without humans on the ground, is key to making drones a widespread reality in our industry.”
Drone Delivery of Clinical Laboratory Specimens Worldwide
And past Dark Daily ebriefings reported on drone delivery of medical supplies being conducted in Virginia, North Carolina, Australia, Switzerland, and Rwanda. With potentially fully automated systems just around the corner, there’s no question the use of drones to transport critical medical supplies and biological specimens is poised for an amazing breakthrough.
While the FAA’s approval of the first fully automated commercial drone flights may not have an immediate impact on clinical laboratories, the increasing use of commercial drones brings drone transportation of lab specimens and other medical supplies one step closer to reality.