© ABzero

Half an hour. That is how brief the time it takes to transport a packet of corona vaccines from one side of town to the other in the (near) future. A trial that was carried out in the vicinity of Rome this week demonstrated that. The drone covered a distance of 32 kilometers at a speed of one hundred kilometers per hour. Blood samples and other biomedical material were stored in the body of the flying object. The route ran between two locations of the Bambino Gesù Children’s Hospital in Rome.

The idea of transporting medication by drone, in particular blood sample test tubes, is not entirely new. The trial in Rome goes further than previous ones because it did not take place in a controlled setting. Instead, it took place in a partly urban and partly rural environment. It was carried out four times this week under the supervision of the Italian Civil Aviation Authority, the body which supervises flight traffic in the country. Other participants in the trial include the Italian companies Leonardo and Telespazio, which both specialize in aerospace.

Much faster

The advantage of medical drone delivery is that transport is much faster than by road. Even a hospital helicopter can’t keep up with the drone over short distances. That’s because helicopters are dependent on landing sites. The drone is cheaper when used frequently, and in most cases less harmful to the environment (electrically powered). As far as the Italian Minister of Transport is concerned, drones will soon be put into operation. Especially once a corona vaccine becomes available. “We are considering using these autonomous flight systems to transport blood samples or vaccines during the pandemic that we are fighting,” Minister Paola De Micheli said on Thursday.

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    Special compartment

    One of the suppliers that is ready to take on the transport task is the start-up ABzero from Pisa, which has developed a special compartment for transport with drones. “We have designed a capsule that monitors and continuously checks the contents during transport,” says Giuseppe Tortora. He is one of ABzero’s two initiators. The so-called ‘Smartcapsule’ is roughly the same size as a roller bag (54x32x26) and can carry up to 10 kilos of medical equipment. Sensors inside the capsule control the atmospheric conditions of the cargo, which is remotely monitored in real-time. “The main advantage of the capsule,” Tortora adds, “is that it can be fitted to all types of drones.

    A week ago, the European Commission launched a vaccination plan to combat the coronavirus. One of the recommendations to individual European countries is to get the logistics supply chain properly organized. Medical drone delivery can become an important link in logistics. Among other things, drones can also reach places where regular transport cannot reach.

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    About the author

    Author profile picture Ewout Kieckens is a Dutch journalist in Rome who writes about Italian lifestyle and culture. He has written books on diverse subjects such as the Vatican and Italian design. He is very interested in innovations, especially Italian contributions to progress.