Over the last decade or so, there’s been a quiet revolution in logistics. Same day delivery in the UK is now a common thing – and this has been good news in the world of medicine.
One exciting area of development is unmanned aerial vehicles. They’re now quite a commonplace consumer product, used for everything from recreation to photography to surveillance.
One of the more exciting aspects of the technology, however, is its ability to deliver medical supplies. Drones can get from one place to another extremely quickly, and they’re not slowed down by terrain in the same way as road vehicles. This means that care can be provided much more quickly. In some cases, this can make a dramatic difference in outcomes for patients.
The current outlook on the usage of medicine drones
In 2018, it was estimated that the global market for medicine drones will push beyond the $100 million mark by 2025. Drones have already distributed millions of vaccines, blood packs, and medical supplies. Recently, the government in Rwanda announced a partnership with drone company Zipline. The company already delivers around three quarters of the country’s blood supply.
How drones are already helping save lives
While it’s easy to think of logistics as a dry, abstract thing, in this context the benefits of efficiency are clear. If a patient is deteriorating, any delay might spell the difference between life and death. And when the road infrastructure isn’t up to standard, these delays are all too common.
Unmanned vehicles can be launched within around ninety seconds of an order being placed. Since the entire system is autonymous, it can operate continuously. Drones can even fly just as easily at night time as they can during the day, since they don’t need to be able to see where they’re going in the same way as human pilots.
Challenges to overcome
There are a few potential downsides to this form of delivery. If the technology is to reach its full potential, these will each need to be addressed.
The first concerns privacy. A drone that flies over your property can look down and see into your back garden.
The second has to do with noise pollution. But, while many of the drones that have reached consumers in recent years have been driven by four propellers, those used by Zipline follow a different design, which is near-silent, especially from ground level. This means that the number of vehicles could be scaled up without causing too much noise.
Finally, we need to ensure that the technology is completely safe – or, at least, safer than the alternatives might be. This will involve a continuous process of refinement and redesign, as the technology is rolled out, and flaws are gradually revealed.