A surgeon in Baltimore is suggesting that drones should be used to deliver organs to hospitals in different states and cities, when an organ transplant is necessary. Research into delivering organs with the use of drones has been conducted at the University of Marlyand Medical Center for over three years and the program is led by Dr. Joseph Scalea. He personally watched on as the the test flights took a kidney in box and delivered it over three miles away. The test was repeated 14 times, and the test results show great promise.
Dr. Scalea believes that drone technology is a great way to help save people’s lives. He once worked on a transplant where the donor organ had to be flown over 1,500 miles from Alabama which took a total of 29 hours to arrive. He finds such situations unacceptable because that same organ could have been delivered in just 6 hours if it had a drone to deliver it.
Organs have a very short lifespan once they are outside of the body. They have to be delivered quickly which means that any delays or mistakes may result in the organ becoming nonviable. The current system for delivering organs relies on commercial flight schedules which are unreliable or charted flights which are incredibly expensive. Over the course of Scalea’s career, he has seen an organ cost $80,000 to be flown across state. He even saw one case where a heart was forgotten on a commercial airplane.
Over 30,000 organs are transplanted each year. Scalea expects drones to become the main method for transporting organs because they will make the process faster and cheaper. The FAA is a major hurdle that needs to be overcome first. Drone technology is picking up in the United States, however the FAA’s current policies regarding drone flights means that they need special licenses to fly over populated areas, out the pilot’s sight and even to fly at night. The FAA realizes that its rules are very restrictive to the development of practical uses for drone technology which is why they are working closely with drone pilot programs. Data taken from new programs such as Scalea’s organ delivery program will set the framework for the next generation of drone regulations.
Scalea pointed out that legislation is not the only thing that needs to change. The current generation of drones are battery powered which have short life spans. Currently gas powered drones would need to be used in deliveries longer than 15-20 minutes. Scalea is also working an special cardboard coolers to carry the organs. These coolers will have sensors that can monitor the organs while they are in transit. Organ transplant via drones will no doubt save lives and is just one of the many innovative ways drones will be used in the future.