Drone-to-door prescriptions trial takes flight in Ireland
A drone company that had to abandon its fast food delivery tests teamed up with Ireland’s health authority to deliver prescriptions.
Manna Aero is working with the health service executive to prescribe and deliver essential medicines and other supplies to vulnerable people in the small rural town of Moneygall.
The company’s process uses autonomous drones made in Wales.
And it is looking into the possibility of testing in the UK within a few weeks.
The UK has already announced a drone test to transport supplies to the Isle of Wight during the pandemic.
In addition, in Florida, nursing home residents will soon be able to deliver their prescriptions.
But those tests are on fixed flight paths.
And Irish flights are going straight home, the final phase of an end-to-end “closed circuit” system, according to the company, is the first.
Local doctors write prescriptions after a video consultation, which the drones then leave at the patients’ home.
The boat can also provide essential supplies – such as milk or bread – to those who should not be leaving.
Fidelma Gleeson, 70, said she was “absolutely brilliant”.
“I thought I would never see the day when there would be such technology that I shouldn’t have to drive to town and go back to get my medicines – brilliant,” he said.
Dr. Colm O’Reilly, a family doctor in nearby Toomevara, said it “has been of great help in a rural area where there may not be the support you could have in town.”
“In these difficult times, it’s nice to see how technology is coming together to help us help our patients,” he said.
Manna Aero CEO Bobby Healy said he wanted to bring the trials to the UK to “show people what we can do – maybe work with the NHS.”
“We are actually trying to do it in the coming weeks – assuming the blockade will continue,” he said.
Delayed take off
The idea came after a very different process – taking takeaway to college students in mid-March – and was suspended because of the pandemic.
The drone can carry up to 4 kg (9 lbs) in its cargo box, which is the size of a large shoebox, but the focus has shifted.
“We won’t sell burgers,” said Healy.
“We’re going to sell what seniors really need to have – so basic needs.”
The mobile drone command center is based in Barack Obama Plaza, a highway service renamed in 2011 when the President of the United States came to visit the home of one of his Irish ancestors.
Manna Aero claims to be equipped to manage up to 100 deliveries per day.
And with around 500 cities in the Irish Republic roughly the same size, he hopes the Moneygall test “validates the concept” for rural deliveries to Ireland and the UK.
“It’s about showing that if there is a world in the future where blockage is needed on a large scale, drones can be a huge solution,” said Healy.
Aerospace Excellence of Wales
Drones are built approximately 10 miles north of Cardiff, an aviation center of excellence already home to thousands of Airbus employees.
They can fly to moderate jail, although Manna chooses not to, it has redundant batteries and flight computers and a parachute for light descents if a “one in 10 million” failure occurs.
In fact, Mr. Healy prefers to call them airplanes and stresses that his airline is regulated as an airline.
“It’s not particularly beautiful,” said Healy.
“It is not particularly fast or any of these things.
“It is simply incredibly safe.”
And although the drones are completely autonomous, a pilot is always present to intervene.
The British space agency is examining the possibility of creating air corridors between different locations in the coming months to help fight Covid-19.
“This will be something where you will find some hospitals that are aware of the challenges they are facing and ready to engage with us,” said application strategy manager Emily Gravestock.
But maintaining public safety during these trials was the primary concern of everyone involved, he said.
“This is the thing that absolutely needs to be proven before any kind of air corridor or opportunity is put in place,” said Gravestock.
“So you have to work with the local community.
“It could interest people to fly drones that provide services through their properties, through their gardens.”
Watch Jen Copestake’s report on this week’s Click program. If you are in the UK, you can watch it on BBC iPlayer.