An aviation “first” has been recorded on the Atlantic corridor between Connemara and the Aran Islands with the delivery of medication by a drone writes Lorna Siggins
The Wingcopter 178 Heavy Lift drone flew diabetes prescription medications and a collection of a patient blood sample almost 22 km across from Connemara airport in Indreabhán to the largest Aran island of Inis Mór last Friday.
The return leg was slightly shorter at 21.6km, and both flights were completed on a single set of batteries, amounting to 32 minutes of flight time.
The DiabetesDrone project was led by NUI Galway (NUIG), and run in partnership with several industry experts and stakeholders.
It was supported by the Irish Aviation Authority and took place between commercial flights to and from Connemara and the Aran islands - showing that future deliveries of this kind could take place within “planned drone corridors”, according to NUIG.
The project participants noted that it is “crucial that people with diabetes have access to their lifesaving medicine at all times, which is often challenging in remote geographic regions and in times of natural disasters”.
“Recent severe weather events, including storms Emma and Ophelia, demonstrated a clear need to develop the capability to deliver insulin and other critical medications (such as glucagon) in times of crisis,” they noted.
NUIG professor of medical device technology Prof Derek O’Keeffe said that island and rural communities could become isolated for days after a severe weather event and might need emergency medicine deliveries.
“To date, medical drones have demonstrated success, for example in delivering blood, defibrillators and human organs for transplant. This #DiabetesDrone project represents another milestone in the use of drones to improve patient care,” he said.
Aran island GP Dr Marian Broderick said that the drone technology offered "endless possibilities" for island communities.
The drone supplied by Survey Drones Ireland was equipped with an insulated parcel delivery box for the payload. The devices reach destinations of up to 100 km distance in less than an hour.
The drone was launched from Connemara Airport using a combination of software - one for the pre-flight checklist and one for the mission flight, and was connected via Vodafone Ireland’s “Internet of Things” network, and flew a pre-planned flight path using “Q Ground Control” software.