Drones tested for medical deliveries

Written by NTN staff

AT&T tests drones for medical deliveries
US telco AT&T is taking part in a proof of concept with UK-based Softbox and pharmaceutical giant Merck to test the delivery of medical payloads carried by LTE-connected drones.

The field trial took place in locations across Puerto Rico with the aim of successfully and safely delivering temperature-sensitive medicines using drones. Last year, AT&T deployed the helicopter Flying COW (Cell on Wings, cell site on a drone) in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. It was the first time a drone had been used to connect residents with their mobile phone services after a disaster.

An LTE-connected drone carrying Softbox’s thermal-insulated packaging system ‘Skypod’, which includes a smartbox powered by AT&T’s IoT technology, successfully completed demonstration flights. Softbox, based in the UK, provides specialist temperature control packaging to the pharmaceutical industry.

AT&T’s IoT technology tracks the Skypod with data viewed on a web and mobile app dashboard. The data includes near-real time external and internal temperatures of the box and its location. Light exposure data helps signal if there is box tampering during daylight, by determining if the box is open or closed.

The dashboard app will flash alerts to help drive appropriate action. For example, it will send an alert if there is a change to the temperature range of 2°C to 8°C. It will also send an alert if the drone goes outside of defined geofencing parameters.

The AT&T Global SIM and AT&T Control Center connect and manage the Skypod’s sensor data transmission. The web and mobile app reporting dashboard uses the AT&T Asset Management Operations Center. The drone is also connected to the AT&T network, providing a communications path for flight plan and telemetry data between the drone and ground control system.

“Merck is pleased to collaborate on this innovative new model for delivering medicines to patients in areas affected by natural disasters,” said Brenda Colatrella, executive director, Corporate Responsibility at Merck. “We’re proud of our long history of expanding access to our medicines and vaccines and collaborating to provide humanitarian assistance. The drone test flights give us hope that we will be able to provide a reliable supply of our medicines for disaster.”