Drones are already being called on to provide contactless deliveries, a definite help in the pandemic era, even if the service isn’t widespread yet. While they’ve been providing pharmaceutical deliveries, telehealth drones may begin offering medical services as well.
Beyond Basic Deliveries
A research team at University of Cincinnati (UC) has developed a system that puts telehealth services in a drone. We think of telehealth services as a doctor providing medical advice over the phone. Yet now, a drone would be providing the mode for the advice as well as basic care.
“Inventors Victoria Wangia-Anderson, Manish Kumar, Seung-Yeon Lee, and Debi Sampsel, from three colleges at UC, collaborated to develop a semi-autonomous prototype that can be dispatched right to people’s homes. The drones are big enough to carry medicine or medical supplies but small enough to maneuver the tight confines of a home using navigational algorithms developed by UC engineers,” reads a university press release.
In a way, the existing idea of telehealth will still be integrated, as the telehealth drone will include “cameras and a display screen so patients can talk to health care professionals from the comfort of their home.”
Raising the bar a bit, the drone will also have on-board “a waterproof box the size of a small first-aid kit to deliver medical supplies or collect self-administered lab tests.”
One of the university researchers, Manish Kumar, a professor of mechanical engineering, and his lab have been “working on autonomous systems that combine artificial intelligence with a suite of sensors that allow drones to navigate a cluttered and complex three-dimensional environment, like the entrance to a person’s home and living room.”
These drones aren’t just landing on your doorstep – they’re entering your home on their own accord, navigating your hallways to get to you, who is perhaps too ill to leave your bed.
This is certainly what the telehealth system needs – more than just you explaining your symptoms to the doctor. A doctor seeing you could instruct the drone to perhaps take your vitals and maybe perform some tests. Maybe in the future, it could even take blood tests or X-rays. Although, medical professionals struggle to take blood samples from me, so I’m not sure how successful a drone would be.
In the midst of a pandemic, maybe a drone could even vaccinate people instead of just delivering the pharmaceuticals for the vaccine. Such a system could perhaps solve the difficulties of getting entire populations vaccinated within a short time frame.
Perhaps telehealth drones could also provide care for people who are ill with an extremely contagious virus. If they were in need of an I.C.U. or a ventilator, it would still require hospitalization, but others could be tested and receive care in their home from a telehealth drone. It could save further people from catching the virus.
Do note that this is just the very beginning of the process – it’s nowhere near ready to be utilized. But it does paint a beautiful picture of how things may improve in the future.
Read on to learn about the medical drones that are delivering the COVID vaccine.