Last week, GE Aviation unit Airxos participated in the world’s first drone flight that delivered a donor kidney for actual human transplant. The flight was a collaboration between transplant physicians and researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, aviation and engineering experts at the University of Maryland, and collaborators at the Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland.
On April 19, at approximately 12:30 a.m., a human donor kidney was loaded onto the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) drone. The flight, led by the University of Maryland UAS Test Site at St. Mary’s County, commenced at 1:00 am. The vehicle traveled 2.6 miles and flew for approximately 10 minutes. The kidney was successfully delivered to UMMC for a 5:00 a.m. transplant surgery. The drone’s flight was monitored by Airxos’s Air Mobility platform that enables unmanned traffic management applications, operations, and services. Air Mobility manages the volume, density, and variety of unmanned traffic data and coordinates and integrates it within a secure, FAA-compliant, gated cloud environment.
Organ transport by drone had been previously tested with success between medical facilities by the University of Maryland UAS Test Site in St. Mary’s County, this was the first time the flight operation was used to deliver an organ for transplant. The flight employed a specially designed apparatus for maintaining and monitoring the kidney; a custom-built eight-rotor drone with multiple powertrains to ensure redundancy; the use of a mesh network of radios to control the drone, monitor its status, and provide communications for the ground crew at multiple locations; and aircraft operating systems that combined best practices from both UAS and organ transport standards.
“This flight demonstrated how air mobility can transform the delivery of medical care in ways that can have significant impact on lives. It lays the foundation for future advanced drone operations,” said Airxos CEO Ken Stewart.