UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) and drones are used for a number of medical and healthcare applications. They are highly suited for reaching remote locations and communities, such as those in mountains or on small islands, that are not well served by roads and regular vessel routes or that are difficult to land a manned aircraft or helicopter in. Medical drones may also be used in more urban areas, typically flying routes between hospitals and laboratories.
Medical Delivery Drones
Medical drones are commonly used to carry a range of essential supplies and healthcare-related items. These include blood, organs, laboratory samples, vaccines and medicines. They may also be used to deliver first aid kits in SAR (search and rescue) and first responder situations. Medical delivery drones may land to deliver their cargo, drop it via parachute, or lower it via a tether.
Medical supply drones carrying particular medicines, or biological material such as blood and organs, may be fitted with cooled cargo compartments that allow them to keep their payload at critical temperatures. Some drones have also been equipped with AEDs (automated external defibrillators), and may be able to reach a patient in less time than an ambulance or other ground vehicle in situations where time is of the essence.
Fixed-Wing or Multirotor Medical Drones?
Drones used for medicine and healthcare may be either fixed-wing or multirotor platforms, depending on the application. Fixed-wing drones can usually cover longer distances but lack the ability to maneuver precisely. They may also require space to take off and land, although if the drone is making a package drop via parachute this may not be a critical requirement. Multirotor drones are highly suited to urban areas or to environments that are too cramped or rocky to land a fixed-wing aircraft.
Drones are also used by the military for combat healthcare and front-line medicine. In addition to medical supply UAVs, larger systems are under development that may be able to lift and extract wounded soldiers from the battlefield.