Clinicians and engineers at the University of Maryland have pulled off an impressive feat of delivering a donor kidney via a drone, a kidney that was later implanted into a fortunate patient. It may seem that once you figure out how to deliver something using a drone, other things of a similar size and weight would be about as easy to transport. Not so when you’re moving human organs around.
Organs and the environment in which they’re transported have to be constantly monitored during all phases of transportation. The temperature, vibrations experienced, and even barometric pressure of organs have to be kept within limits. The other thing is you don’t want to lose something as precious as an organ on its way to help save a life, which means it has to be delivered safely and before losing viability.
To address these issues, the University of Maryland team built a highly redundant drone that has an extra set of motors, propellers, and a standby battery, all in case any of the primary components fail during flight. The box carrying the organ is packed with sensors that continuously transmit their readings to people on the ground, and the GPS shares the drone’s location throughout the flight.
“This history-making flight not only represents a breakthrough from a technological point of view, but provides an exemplary demonstration of how engineering expertise and ingenuity ultimately serve human needs—in this case, the need to improve the reliability and efficiency of organ delivery to hospitals conducting transplant surgery,” said Darryll J. Pines, Ph.D., UMD, dean of U of Maryland’s School of Engineering and Professor of Aerospace Engineering. “As astonishing as this breakthrough is from a purely engineering point of view, there’s a larger purpose at stake. It’s ultimately not about the technology; it’s about enhancing human life.”
Here’s a video report from the University of Maryland about this achievement: