Drone successfully delivers medicine to Aran Islands in ‘lifesaving first’

NUI Galway project hailed by locals after transferring diabetes medication from mainland

File image of a drone. File photograph: Getty Images

File image of a drone. File photograph: Getty Images

 

The delivery of crucial medicine by drone from Galway to the Aran Islands has been hailed as a first which could be lifesaving in an emergency.

The successful test delivery of diabetes prescription medication over some 18km of water between Connemara Airport and Inishmore is being seen as showing the possibilities for future emergency deliveries in planned drone corridors.

The medicine was delivered by a drone in what the developers called an “autonomous beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) drone delivery” .

The drone was connected to the internet and was in contact with the Irish Aviation Authority’s air space regulators at all times during the journey, with the flights to the island and back taking about 15 minutes each.

Marion Hernon, a patient with diabetes on the Aran Islands, welcomed the test. She said: “Insulin is essential for my survival and having a diabetes drone service in an emergency situation would ensure this survival while living on an offshore island.”

Pharmacist Pauline Forde, of Staunton’s Allcare Pharmacy, Galway, said it was “extremely important that we have a way to deliver fridge medications such as insulin to patients in emergency situations, which this drone delivery system allows us to do”.

Dr Marion Broderick, a GP on the Aran Islands, said drone delivery had “endless possibilities” for island communities.

The drone project, developed at NUI Galway, was designed to show how people with diabetes who need access to lifesaving medicine can be supported by drone technology, even when normal delivery channels are not operating.

Severe weather events

Recent severe weather events, including storms Emma and Ophelia, demonstrated a clear need to develop the capability to deliver insulin and other critical medications in times of crisis, according to project lead Prof Derek O’Keeffe, professor of medical device technology at NUI Galway and consultant physician at University Hospital Galway.

Prof O’Keeffe said climate change means that severe weather events are becoming more prevalent and it was “incumbent on us to develop a solution for these emergencies, which addresses the clinical, technical and regulatory issues before a sentinel event occurs.

“To date medical drones have demonstrated success, for example in delivering blood, defibrillators and human organs for transplant. This #DiabetesDrone project represents another milestone in the use of drones to improve patient care.”

The drone was a Wingcopter 178 Heavy Lift, with insulated parcel delivery box. It was an all-electric vertical take-off and landing drone that transitions into very efficient forward flight once up in the air.

The drone can travel up to 100km in less than an hour.

Once airborne the whole flight was monitored by the SUA pilots from Survey Drones Ireland and manufacturer Wingcopter.