Direct Relief, Merck, AT&T, Softbox and Volans-i are collaborating this week to conduct drone based model trials emergency medical supply deliveries using to an innovative approach to disaster response. Post Hurricane Maria in September 2017, researchers found that the factor that led to several deaths was- inaccessibility of medicines to people displaced from their homes given that travel was extremely difficult and health centers went without power for weeks and not water or wind.
Tests were conducted with drones flying in challenging terrain and remote areas beyond the line of sight that were impacted during Maria. The drones are designed to carry the types of medication people often lose access to in natural calamities. The technology of the smart boxes comprises temperature-control when delivering products such as some of Merck’s vaccines. The long-distance drone deliveries must comply with U.S. and Puerto Rico laws and regulations for prescription drug delivery, including a documented chain of custody; apart from FAA approved flight plans; and consistently refrigeration of some products to ensure the integrity and effectiveness of the medicines. Drones will also be test flown over sea to deliver medicines and vaccines later.
Each organization involved in this pilot program made a unique contribution.
- Direct Relief is coordinating the exercise involving participation effort of several of health centers in Puerto Rico, testing how such systems can be deployed and secured in an emergency.
- Merck conceived the project and is funding the tests and donating medications for delivery, using its Las Piedras facility as the departure point.
- Softbox developed the compact temperature controlled packaging system for transporting cold chain medications – those requiring constant refrigeration.
- AT&T’s Internet of Things (IoT) technology is being used to monitor the temperature and location of Softbox’s cold chain boxes.
- Volans-i is providing the long-range delivery drones and is controlling the flights.
“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. “The successful test flights give us hope that we will be able to provide a reliable supply of our medicines for disaster relief.”
“Softbox is proud to be working with Direct Relief, Merck and AT&T on this ground-breaking, innovative project,” said Richard Wood, technical director at Softbox. “We have developed, in collaboration with AT&T, a brand new type of IoT enabled temperature control packaging system, SKYPOD, which has been designed specifically for Drone/UAV delivery systems and to perform in the most extreme conditions, until the medication is delivered to the patient.”
“We participated in a drone trial in Puerto Rico to show it’s possible to use drones to deliver temperature-sensitive medicines in places with difficult to reach terrains. Our IoT technology tracks the SKYPOD with reporting data accessible through a dashboard.” said Jose Juan Dávila, VP-GM AT&T Puerto Rico & USVI.