In the coming months, for the first time in the Netherlands, a medical transport drone will fly over a long distance between two hospitals. These are branches of the Isala hospital in the Dutch cities of Meppel and Zwolle. The aim is to investigate how urgent medical shipments such as blood, medicines, and diagnostic samples can be transported more quickly by drones in the future.
Medical transport drone will make test flights between Dutch cities
The pilot is initiated by the Medical Drone Service partnership. Affiliated are ANWB, PostNL, Erasmus MC, Isala, Sanquin, Certe, and technology partners Avy and KPN. The joint aim is to improve care and service to the patient through the use of drones for the transport of emergency medical shipments.
No medical goods will be transported yet for the intended test flights between Zwolle and Meppel. In the first instance, it is about gaining experience and gathering data in order to be able to realize the services in the future. It is the first time in the Netherlands that a drone will fly over a long distance and out of sight of the pilot, also known as beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) over sparsely populated areas.
About the medical transport drone built by Avy
The drone with which the flights will be carried out was developed by the Dutch drone builder Avy. The aircraft can take off vertically like a helicopter and flies horizontally like an airplane. The drone is remotely controlled by a pilot on the ground. Communication with the drone takes place via KPN’s 4G network. The drone is electrically powered and produces little noise.
The ANWB, which also flies the trauma helicopters and ambulance helicopter, carries out the drone flights. Parts of the intended Meppel-Zwolle route will be tested until mid-2021. Exemptions have been granted for these test flights by the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate. The flight height is about 100 meters. The cruising speed is 75 km / h. A flight between Meppel and Zwolle takes approximately 15 to 20 minutes. The road trip takes about 23 minutes if there are no traffic jams.
During the trial period, flights will only take place on working days from the Isala location from Meppel to Zwolle, landing in a meadow north of Zwolle. They fly over a distance of 10 miles over sparsely populated areas. The last part of the route to the hospital in Zwolle is located in a built-up area and will be carried out at a later stage.
To ensure safety, the drone is equipped with various safety systems. The drone does not fly over houses or farms at first. The drone flies autonomously, but a pilot is always monitoring the aircraft remotely. The operator can take control of the drone at any time. The airspace is temporarily closed to other air traffic during the test flights. There is no flying in bad weather.
Future of medical transports by drone
The use of medical drones is in line with Isala’s ambition to continuously improve care. When blood is taken in Meppel, a scheduled drone service can quickly transport the blood to the lab in Zwolle for testing. Concentrating more complex or less common blood tests in one location can also be more efficient.
After the upcoming series of test flights, an evaluation will follow and further consideration will be given to how hospitals and other healthcare institutions can connect to this.
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