There’s a new entry on the growing list of things drones do: live organ transfers.
The project, jointly developed by the university’s departments of medicine and engineering, incorporated several firsts. They included technology for maintaining and monitoring a viable human organ; a custom-built drone with eight rotors and multiple powertrains to ensure consistently reliable performance, even in the case of a possible component failure; the use of a wireless mesh network to control the aircraft, monitor its status, and provide communications for the ground crew at multiple locations; and aircraft operating systems that combined best practices from both UAS and organ transport standards. The project was developed under the oversight of the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The 4.5 km flight took just under 10 minutes.
Baltimore police blocked road traffic briefly along the flight path, while the aircraft flew overhead on its automated course at a height of 400 feet. Pilots were in radio contact with each other and maintained a visual line of sight throughout the entire flight.
Project leader Dr Joseph Scalea said there were several unmet needs in organ transport. ‘For example, there is currently no way to track an organ’s location and health while in transit,’ he said. ‘Even in the modern era, human organs are unmonitored during flight. I found this to be unacceptable. Real-time organ monitoring is mission-critical to this experience.’
Dr Scalea, who performed the transplant operation, said there was a clear need for longer organ carrying drone flights to speed the transfer of the donated organs. ‘I did a transplant where the organ flew 1500 miles (2600 km) from Alabama on a commercial aircraft and it took 29 hours,’ he told The Baltimore Sun. ‘That’s ridiculous. It could have been here in six. And yet that’s accepted as how we do things.’