Commercially available unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones, have gotten pretty amazing and quite cheap over the last few years, thanks to new brushless motors, lithium polymer batteries, and sensors already found in today’s smartphones. They’re already being used by farmers to survey fields, real estate agents to survey properties, and by rescue teams to look for people in difficult to reach places. Lately there have been attempts to use drones for medical applications, such as ferrying automatic external defibrillators and emergency medicines faster than ambulances. In the latest Air Medical Journal, three researchers from Mayo Clinic’s Department of Surgery investigate the potential for drones to be used to deliver things such as drugs and blood derivatives to clinics, disaster areas, and to remote places that are expensive to reach such as ships and offshore oil platforms.
Blood, for example, is often delivered with a police escort because the shipment expires quickly and fresh supplies can be far away. A drone can be used to deliver blood immediately as soon as a call is received, arriving fresh from a blood bank before the patient even reaches the emergency room. This can allow hospitals to avoid keeping large amounts of blood in stock, in turn reducing the overall demand for it. Moreover, drones are significantly cheaper to use for deliveries compared to helicopters. Since Mayo Clinic’s choppers make about 400 flights a year delivering blood and plasma, each costing thousands of dollars, drones can certainly be doing this job for pennies on the dollar in the near future.
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