How to distribute lifesaving supplies quickly and safely after a natural disaster has long been a puzzle for responders. Now, drones might be the lifesaver. That idea was put to the test this week in New Jersey as a drone delivery service conducted test flights to help determine whether drones can be used to carry human medical samples to and from areas that cannot be accessed or communicated with during major storms, earthquakes or other disasters.
Experts say drones are becoming a more valuable tool in many humanitarian operations, where the unmanned aircraft can be quickly launched and used to collect data and images and help locate people who might be injured or trapped. But Timothy Amukele, an assistant professor of pathology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, said that biological samples “are not like a shoe or a book; they are pretty fragile items.”
“For example, if blood is being carried on the back of motorcycle, shaking caused by the bike and its vibrations can ruin the sample,” said Amukele, a volunteer adviser to Flirtey, the company that conducted the tests in New Jersey. “We want to see what tasks the drones can perform and if the drones have similar effects on samples they carry.”
About 100 people looked on as the drones flew between an onshore medical relief camp and a test facility on a vessel stationed on the Delaware Bay. They took medical supplies from the vessel to the medical camp, while blood and other medical specimens were flown between the sites.
The tests were done at the invitation of the Field Innovation Team, a nonprofit that works with agencies and experts from various fields to develop solutions to humanitarian disaster scenarios.
Agencies involved in humanitarian relief agree that drones have been helpful in certain humanitarian operations for collecting data and imagery where infrastructure is destroyed or was already lacking, including in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013. But they also note that caution must be used in cases where humanitarian relief drones could be mistaken for military drones.
“The potential is indeed huge for drones to deliver small, lifesaving packages, such as vaccines,” said George Fenton, director of humanitarian innovations at World Vision International, a London-based humanitarian aid, development and advocacy organization. “The potential for confusion between military action and humanitarian work is high, and we must proceed cautiously with this relatively new technology.”
This post was originally published in AP. Click here to read.