After Storm Ophelia in 2017, Prof. Derek O’Keeffe (@Physicianeer) noticed that his diabetes patients were unable to make it into clinic following the severe weather event, due to flooding. The same happened in 2018 after storm Emma, due to being snowed in on farms etc. All patients with Type 1 diabetes require a supply of both insulin and glucagon for disease management and 40% of patients with Type 2 diabetes requiring insulin therapy. These medications are usually available from local pharmacies, however in these remote geographic regions, communities and individuals can become isolated for days and a situation may arise where patients can run out of their lifesaving diabetes medication. What would happen if people were unable to reach their clinic or pharmacy for longer periods of time? A solution was required.
To provide an autonomous beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) drone to deliver - and possibly collect - a package to/from a given location, connected via an IoT network.
After over a year of planning and preparations, on Friday September 13th, 2019 at 13:00 hours , NUI Galway and partners completed the world’s first autonomous beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) drone delivery of diabetes medications and collection of a patient blood sample, between Connemara Airport and the Aran Islands, Ireland, Europe.
A White Wingcopter VTOL Drone, that the team called "The Seagull" completed the mission and demonstrated the utility of medical drones to improve patient care.
The Internet of Things (IoT) connected drone delivery was supported by the Irish Aviation Authority, operated in between commercial flights and was in contact with air space regulators at all times, showing the possibility of future deliveries of this kind within planned drone corridors.
The NUI Galway led #DiabetesDrone project was run in partnership with several industry experts and stakeholders including, Skytango, Drone Survey Ireland, Wingcopter, Vodafone Ireland and global healthcare company Novo Nordisk. Dr Kevin Johnson, University of Limerick provided expert insight into state-of-the-art drone technology and Dr Spyridoula Maraka, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, USA, outlined the health care delivery issues involved in this innovative project.
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