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Medical delivery drone to trial BVLOS flights between two Netherlands’ cities

By Chris Stonor

For the first time in the Netherlands, a medical delivery drone will soon fly between two hospitals. The flight will occur between the cities of Meppel and Zwolle (a distance of about 22 kms), where two ancillaries of the Isala Hospital are located, reports a press statement. The aim is to discover how life-saving medical items such as blood, medicines, and diagnostic samples can be delivered more rapidly compared to by road.

Initiated by the Medical Drone Service Partnership of ANWB, PostNL, Erasmus MC, Isala, Sanquin, Certe, and technology partners, Avy and KPN, the aim is to improve patient care and service through the deployment of drones for the delivery of emergency medical shipments. This will be the first time in the Netherlands that a drone flies a long distance over sparsely populated areas via Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS).

The deployment of medical drones is in line with Isala’s ambition to continuously improve patient care. When blood is taken in Meppel, for example, a scheduled drone service can quickly transport the blood to the lab in Zwolle for testing.

The drone to be used is developed by the Dutch manufacturer, Avy.The craft is remotely controlled by an operator on the ground, where the link takes place via KPN’s 4G network.

The ANWB, who are responsible for the country’s ambulance and emergency helicopters, will supervise the flights. The drone flying height is about 100 metres with a cruising speed of 75 km/h. A trip between Meppel and Zwolle may take 15 minutes or so. By road around 23 minutes, so long as there is no congestion. Various areas of the Meppel-Zwolle route are to be trialled until mid-2021.

Yet, no actual medical goods will be transported. These initial tests are for gaining experience and gathering data only. Exemptions have been granted for these flights by the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate.

During the trial period, flights will only take place on working days and over sparsely populated areas. The craft will land in a meadow north of Zwolle. The last part of the route to the hospital in Zwolle is located in a built-up area and this particular test is to be carried out at a later stage.

The autonomous drone is equipped with various safety systems and will be constantly monitored by an operator, who can take control of the craft at any time. At first, no flights will occur over houses or farms at first, there are no trials during bad weather, where the airspace is temporarily closed to other air traffic during the test flights.

After the upcoming series of test flights, an evaluation will follow and further consideration will be given to how hospitals and other healthcare institutions can connect to this.

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