Matternet drones to deliver COVID-19 tests in Berlin
Drones from the California-based company Matternet are currently flying between a hospital and Labor Berlin to deliver COVID-19 tests.
The distance between the hospital and the lab is about 7 miles which the Matternet drones can complete in about 10 minutes, significantly faster than the standard one hour delivery times.
“The whole topic of ‘time to the result’ is really important, especially when there is the suspicion of an infection,” said Klaus Tenning, who is leading the project for Labor Berlin. “You want to identify the person and get the result as soon as possible so that the person can self-isolate or be able to just continue with normal daily life.”
Once the new European drone rules come into effect by the end of this year, the hope is that these drone delivery flights of COVID-19 tests and other medical supplies will become routine.
By switching out batteries, the Matternet drones in theory can operate 24/7. On every flight, the unmanned aircraft can transport 40 samples.
In Germany, 175 laboratories can process 307,000 COVID-19 tests per day, says the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s disease control agency. Currently, more than one million COVID-19 tests are carried out every week. Some tests take place at designated test centers but they also happen at doctors’ practices. According to Tenning, the delivery and transportation process can be sped up.
“An emergency situation like a pandemic can bring about faster change and innovation,” he said.
While Matternet is already active in the United States and Switzerland, the drone deliveries of COVID-19 tests and medical supplies would be a first in Europe.
The Matternet drones are fully autonomous and come with a built-in parachute that would be deployed in case of an emergency. The drones can also detect and avoid other aircraft such as helicopters. The drone control center will be able to monitor all manned aviation taking place in the area.
“They start themselves and follow a pre-defined route and then they land autonomously at the destination,” said Alex Norman, Matternet’s project manager, according to the Associated Press.
Norman continued to say that currently there are no plans in place to deliver vaccines by drone, but that could be a future possibility. Matternet is already working on temperature-controlled containers so that vaccines could be transported at the required low temperatures.
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