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K.RAMACHANDRA

DIRECTOR

NATIONAL DESIGN AND RESEARCH FORUM

BANGALORE

This paper has its focus on indigenous capability in heavy-duty Drones for emergency organ transport and other medical services, which constitute a small but important percentageof operations in health-care sector. A top-level assessment of global technology readiness, operational experience and bottle-necks including regulatory norms, specific to India, is made in this paper.                     

Many successful Indian R & D effort towards the development and deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVS) or Drones have been launched and are in progress for several decades now, exclusively addressing technology requirements for defence applications. Indigenous Drone technology has reached a maturity level, of being able to support armed forces to handle critical missions, on par with technology levels elsewhere in the world.Multi-disciplinary technologies, manufacturing and maintenance issues, specific mission oriented user-trials have been undertaken,withdemonstrated payload capacity many times more than 25-40 kg, a minimum necessity for medical Drones,  almost unlimitedrange and endurance &  autonomous operational capability.

Understandably, many of these accomplishments are dual-use technologies and natural expectation&demand from civilian sector today, is that development and deployment of Drones for emergency organ-transport between widely separated hospitals is a simple “Read-Across” and could be accomplished in a short time frame, with minimal development and operating cost.This is inevitable since the other obvious choice for this complex task, that is the use of already availablesmall manned helicopters, is still logistically complex and operationally expensive.

In reality, there are several technology adaptation and integration challenges and administrative bottle-necks that limit their immediate induction into civilian health-care domain, specifically for human-organ transport between hospitals, which have large geographic separations, in urban and semi-urban regions. Technologies relevant to core civilian agricultural applications are closer to organ transportrequirements and in the Indiancontext, can be considered to be the genesis and basis for the development of emergency medical-supplies and human-organ transport Drone system.

Needless to highlight, lot more needs to be done in selecting the right choice of vehicle and technologies for this specialised task. Obvious choice is either Multi-Rotor Drones such as Hexa- or Octo-Copter or down-sized Helicopter Drones.  Great strides have been made in the development of both these types of Drones in European and American institutions and programs have been launched by several technology consortia in India, including the National Design and Research Forum. Multi-Rotor-Copters for medical supplies have already been developed & demonstrated and need to go through certification and reliability demonstration phase.  While technology readiness in respect of Structures, Controls and Basic Sensors is quite high, concerted developmental effort is needed to address “endurance-related” power-supply systems, propulsion units and “range-related”navigation, trackingand most importantly “system-related”  reliability and cost, which are the prime parameters for organ-transport applications.

Technology-readiness gaps are to easier to bridge since defence-related drone experience and technical skills are already available and have been injected into developmental programs.Three other operational issues are equally  important and need  to be addressed on priority: Legal, Ethical, Safety  and Certification issues imposed by the DGCA and other administrative machinery, training & certification of Drone Pilots for operation and maintenance  and training of Medical Personnelto handle organ-transport containers and ground operations at hospitals.

With the available Drone technologies&prototypes for other applications, operational experience and human resources, organ-transport system is a certain technological reality, supporting health-care system in India, in a short period of a few years, with the support of medical organizations and adequate funding.

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