Drones, Smartphones Eyed for Medical Aid to Remote Regions

Nancy A. Melville

October 02, 2013

In This Article

Tests Conducted in Dominican Republic, Haiti

In another effort, Palo Alto, California–based Matternet has already conducted tests of its UAV model in the field, demonstrating its technological capabilities at sites in the Dominican Republic and Haiti that were devastated after the catastrophic earthquake that struck the region in 2010.

Matternet is testing 2 types of UAVs: a smaller model that is maneuverable but capable of flying only about 10 km in distance, and a larger, fixed-wing UAV that could fly like a small airplane for distances of up to 50 km.

"Most of the technology we're using is off the shelf," said Matternet Chief Executive Officer Andreas Raptopoulos. "Our basic premise is that we don't want to have to rely on ground infrastructure," he told Medscape Medical News.

The company is working to set up pilot trials that will test capabilities for issues such as maintaining cold storage to keep medicines or vaccines at a safe temperature.

Matternet tested UAV capabilities in Haiti in August and September 2012. Company photo

Raptopoulos said he envisions the technology providing regular transportation to regions from hubs set up at strategic locations and assisting in medical and humanitarian aid efforts.

"We can envision groups such as Doctors Without Borders, for instance, using this technology to transport medical samples," he said. "And there are many other applications it could be useful for."

Researchers across the Atlantic at the University College Cork, Ireland, have meanwhile proposed a UAV system of their own for the delivery of diagnostics, medical advice, and medications, with a focus on conditions including malaria, pneumonia, and child health.

An artist's rendering of an evolved version in Africa of Matternet's working prototype from the Haiti trials. Company photo

Their program, dubbed Autonomous MEdicaL Intervention Airborne (AMELIA), is designed to be powered by solar charging stations along routes to allow for longer-distance travel and will feature a host of essential healthcare tools.

"AMELIA will be equipped with low cost low power sensors for heart rate, oxygen saturation, temperature, respiratory rate, haemoglobin estimation using photoplethysmography, blood glucose measurement, electronic stethoscope and video consultation," according to the project's Web site.

The research team is currently working to secure sufficient funding before the project can progress.

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