AiRXOS, part of GE Aviation, took part in the world’s first unmanned aircraft (UA) flight that delivered a donor kidney to surgeons in Baltimore, Maryland for fruitful transplantation into a patient with kidney failure. The historic flight was a partnership between transplant physicians and scientists at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) in Baltimore; aviation and engineering experts at the University of Maryland (UMD); and partners at the Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland (The LLF). While organ transport by drone has been tested in the past to be effective between medical facilities by the University of Maryland UAS Test Site in St. Mary’s County, this is the first time the flight operation was used to transport an organ for transplant.
The unmanned aircraft system (UAS) flight operation was watched by AiRXOS’ Air MobilityTM Platform, a rich, innovative grade framework allowing unmanned traffic management operations, applications, and services. The Air Mobility Platform handles the density, volume, and diversity of unmanned traffic data, while organizing and combining that data within a secure, FAA-compliant, gated cloud environment to guarantee safe unmanned operations.
Some of the technological firsts of this endeavor include: a specially engineered, high-tech device for maintaining and observing a viable human organ; a made-to-order UAS with eight rotors and manifold powertrains to guarantee steadily reliable performance, even in the case of a probable component botch; the use of a mesh network radios to regulate the UAS, track aircraft status, and deliver communications for the ground crew at numerous locations; and aircraft operating systems that integrated best practices from both UAS and organ transport standards.
Flight Operation Details
On April 19th, at approximately 12:30 am, a human donor kidney was placed into the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) drone. The flight, led by the University of Maryland UAS Test Site at St. Mary’s County, started at 1:00 am. The vehicle covered 2.6 miles (4.3 km) and flew for nearly 10 minutes. The human kidney was positively delivered to the UMMC and was arranged to be used for a transplant surgery at 5:00 am.
AiRXOS is honored to have taken part in this landmark moment in medical and aviation history. 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. AIRXOS is privileged to have worked closely with the UMD team in helping perform this historic flight.
Ken Stewart, CEO, AiRXOS.
“Having a robust and highly capable partner like AiRXOS teaming with us not only gave us a greater confidence for this particular operation, it really sets the stage for future Unmanned Traffic Management and Beyond Visual Line of Sight research efforts,” said Matt Scassero, director of the University of Maryland Unmanned Aircraft System Test Site in St. Mary’s County.
Maryland faculty and scientists trust this prototype organ transport lays the path for the use of UAS to increase access to donated organs, enhancing outcomes for more people who require organ transplants. Presently organs are conveyed by charter flights or commercial aircraft. Organ transplants have a narrow window of cold ischemia time (CIT) wherein an organ can be chilled and then have blood supply restored. Nearly 114,000 individuals were on the national transplant waiting list as of January 2019, and daily approximately 80 people receive organ transplants, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing - the nonprofit that handles the transplant system. For complex medical deliveries, decreasing the amount of travel time in urban locations, as well as vibration during travel can help result in better outcomes.
The Air Mobility Platform from AIRXOS is a digital infrastructure for unmanned traffic that assists and benefits pioneering operations like medical delivery by providing a unique, agnostic, single point of accountability to manage and link assorted sets of applications, operations, and devices - offering enterprises the freedom to handle operations and communications, deploy applications, and grow operations as ground and air mobility needs change.