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The electric VTOL-fixed wing drone for urgent medical delivery

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - SkySaver (The electric VTOL-fixed wing drone for urgent medical delivery)

Reporting period: 2021-08-01 to 2022-07-31

Problem statement

The healthcare sector is incrementally shifting to a centralized ecosystem to remain cost-efficient in an ever more demanding market. To exploit the benefits of economies of scale and minimize waste of medicines, many healthcare institutions have centralised or subcontracted the production of specific medicines, the analysis of clinical specimens, and stock keeping of blood, medicine and vaccines. These same healthcare institutions are responsible for the in-time delivery of urgent medical supplies with expiration dates - such as antibiotics and blood and urine samples - and the transport of blood or infusion bags in trauma situations. This presents a logistical problem affecting critical operations. Further complicating this scenario is the effect (the high rate of) urbanisation is having on road congestion. Hospitals are usually located in densely populated areas meaning their emergency transport road vehicles compete with traffic during urgent deliveries.

The current solution - road transport - is not tailored to the relatively small quantities needed in urgent deliveries; SABCA (aerospace, Belgium) indicates that 90% of all emergency deliveries to hospitals can be covered with a 1.5kg payload. The current vehicles make for a resource-intensive option in respect to time, staff, and emissions. A zero-emission (network of) drone(s) which can autonomously fly the shortest route to destination, with a payload catered to emergency healthcare delivery cargo, presents an ideal solution to these logistical issues.

Importance to society

The number of urgent medical transports and, thus, patients which the SkySaver solution can impact is significant. To take the Netherlands as an example, the Dutch blood bank alone conducts over 1,000 emergency deliveries per year - that equates to 3 per day.

In the delivery of urgent medical care it is critical that goods are transported quickly, maintain their integrity, and can be delivered at any time. An autonomous drone network can ensure this is possible while using fewer resources than current solutions. Avy’s commitment to a zero-emission solution is particularly impactful when replacing polluting solutions such as vans or helicopters. Furthermore, drone networks form an efficient connection between remote populations and health services, increasing access to healthcare.

Overall objectives
The output of this programme is a significantly upscaled version of Avy’s medical use case aircraft, namely a regulation-compliant eVTOL equipped with a medical cargo box fit for cold-chain deliveries. The SkySaver autonomous drone network solution is made possible by a docking station, another programme output.

The objective is to enable clients to use the SkySaver solution to increase the efficiency and positive impact of their urgent medical deliveries. Such deliveries include the transport of clinical specimens, blood and infusion bags, pharmaceutical supplies, drugs and vaccines from and to hospitals, laboratories and production facilities.

In the development and roll-out of this product Avy intends to also contribute to increased public acceptance of such drone operations through its media coverage of successful SkySaver operations (by clients) and the impact thereof.
The activities in the period August 2020 and July 2021 focused for the most part on the deliverables due in the technical work package of the programme:
- enhanced airframe
- global sense and avoid system
- medical payload box
- docking station

The detailed design stage of the enhanced airframe was completed. The majority of manufacturing tools were designed and produced. First out-of-mould (FOM) components have been released for the majority of the composite components. All avionics have been designed and produced, and are now undergoing tests to validate requirements. Suppliers have been contracted for metallic parts.

While exploring the mechanisms for sense & avoid technology (ranging from visual detect and avoid to purely transponder / UTM-based avoidance), it was decided to shift focus to software algorithms that can take inputs from a transponder, or from a UTM platform, to autonomously avoid other traffic.

Avy completed the design of the medical cargo box and a prototype was made. Static and dynamic tests were carried out in-house. The first batch is expected in the coming programme period.

The docking station design has been completed. A first unit has been produced and is currently being piloted in a project.

Aside from the technical deliverables, continuous activities in the regulatory space, communication, and working with key partners took place.

As of this year, there is uniform legislation for UAV operation approvals in the EU and a handful of other countries in the region (EASA). In the reporting period Avy has worked to obtain necessary permits for flight operations and supporting our clients in doing the same. For Avy this has led to reaching significant milestones such as obtaining approval to fly operations Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS).

Avy is active on social media, as are her partners, showcasing the successes of the proof of concepts / pilots in the medical use case. Avy has been working closely with our key partner, the Dutch Medical Drone Service, to integrate our drone solution into Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS).
The expected impacts of the project relate to improved access to healthcare through increased efficiencies of (emergency) health care delivery. For example, the more than 1,000 yearly emergency deliveries done by the Dutch national blood bank could be transported more quickly and in autonomous flight, relieving medical personnel of this responsibility. The drone network solution can give easier and more frequent access to healthcare services to populations that were previously hard to reach. In time-sensitive situations, this timely access to a broader set of health services can safe lives.

We also envision this project to contribute to milestones in terms of flight operations in the drone medical use case under the new EASA regulation. Avy’s partners/clients in this space are actively piloting different flight operations engaging medical institutions like hospitals, HEMS operators, and blood banks. The external communication by Avy and partners on the successes of these projects - safe operations, immediate outcomes, and future impacts - will contribute to the public acceptance of the use ‘drones for good’.