When we think of what the near future might be like, many of the tropes from science fiction start to appear, be it the flying cars or the robot assistants. Despite all these influences, the advent of drones and the technology around them has emerged on the scene in relatively quick fashion.
In discussion these days a lot of the focus on drones fit into two categories: military uses and hobbyist uses. On the military side of this technology, drones are being used overseas for varying missions including reconnaissance and combat scenarios. The advantages of using this technology in these ways are mainly down to the cost and safety of the operators. With drones being remote controlled, this gives the operator a great amount of distance between where they are based and where they are operating. Secondly, the lower cost of producing drones compared to manned vehicles is another reason we have seen a rise in their use in military situations, this allows them to be manufactured en masse, to easily replace any damaged or defective drones throughout their operation.
With most things in life, once it has had the financial backing of the military we start to see larger investment from private enterprises. This has led to the boom in hobbyist uses of drones. It seems like a weekly occurrence on Facebook now you see videos of artistic drone displays around the world, merging together peoples technology with this new medium to get creative in. The hobbyist crowd has always been known to push the technology in their hands to further and further boundaries, proving anything is possible when you tinker with this technology.
This constant tinkering and discussions with this technology has been heating up the past few years with applications to other industries being theorized. In my personal opinion, the medical industry is one of the most fascinating areas for the use of drones and recently we have seen many commercial applications to address issues faced by the medical industry.
In High Supply
At its core, drones are useful at getting to hard to reach areas, which makes them perfect at delivering medicine and supplies to mountaineers. Many startups have been created aiming at delivering this solution to mountaineers and exploring different items which can be delivered using this system, a student at the University of Aberdeen has invented a drone aimed at delivering supplies to mountain rescue teams. Scottish Mountain Rescue regularly used drones for the purposes of locating people, which was the inspiration for her to devise a way for it to transfer supplies like painkillers or a defibrillator. Due to the regularly rough weather conditions in the highlands, designing a drone to navigate those winds carrying essential supplies is no easy task and the potential for further development of this technology is limitless. Sophie Barrack, the student behind this drone, said “Mountain Rescue and other related services are still absolutely crucial, but if there was a way to get some initial aid to the patient quickly, could that potentially lead to better outcomes? These are the kinds of questions I am interested in.”
Expanding from this you could take the transportation idea to the field of organ delivery for transplants. When transporting live organs time is of the essence; current methods of transportation like a car have the issues of being delayed due to traffic and road closures. Although in times like this you could use a plane or a helicopter, the cost of these are excessively restricting. Due to limited reporting on the costs of running the specific helicopter for transplants the average running costs of a helicopter of a similar size are “Operating the R66 costs us £308/hour, plus a further £300/hour depreciation on the basis of 200 hours/year utilisation. Total cost of ownership for a 100 hours/year owner increases to £450/hour, plus £600/hour depreciation.” Even taking into account the savings possibly on these figures for a hospital it still represents a large cost. In this gap between the speed of delivery and cost of transportation is where drones can come in.
In the tailend of 2020 a news story came out of Nevada where a drone was used to transport a kidney across the desert. Behind these test flights is a startup called MissionGo, a provider of unmanned aviation solutions, and the Nevada Donor Network who set out to prove it’s possible to transfer a from firstly a hospital to another hospital and then from an airport to a hospital to demonstrate its efficiency, value and speed of using drones for this task going forward. Hopefully this is the jumping off point of investment in this technology could lead to better success rates in the transportation of organs.
With all technological advancements there will inevitably be issues like the dangers and safety concerns surrounding not only the regulation of their use but the increased risk of theft when carrying medical supplies due to the exorbitant prices for them on the black market. Whilst all these ideas are only in their infancy not much consideration yet has been focused on these issues. This however should not be viewed as a drawback of this technology, but a jumping off point and furthering the discussion we are having today about this.
In the past, discussion and consultation of the development, implementation and delivery of new technologies were confined to the business executive offices and the university lecture halls, these days with the advent of social media and the pandemic-fuelled growth in more open and transparent research it has never been easier to get involved in the conversation, who knows, the person who designs the new standard of medical drone security could be reading this very article. This is the time for public engagement and conversation about the ways we can make technology work for us, and improve the lives of people in society. The knowledge, education, and lived experiences of others are essential in bringing ourselves out the other side of this pandemic prioritising what is important.
Nathaniel is a Web Design Executive who also writes content on technology and loves spending his days researching and building new projects, and generally complaining about new trends.