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Wednesday 16 October 2019

Flying doctor: Drone delivers medication to Aran Islands patient

‘The seagull has landed’: Professor Derek O’Keeffe and the world’s first diabetes drone
Photo: Andrew Downes
‘The seagull has landed’: Professor Derek O’Keeffe and the world’s first diabetes drone Photo: Andrew Downes
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

History has been made with the first drone delivery of medication to the Aran Islands.

In just 15 minutes the drone flew from Na Mine airport in Connemara to the air strip on Inis Mór with insulin for a patient.

NUI Galway is leading the research project which is the brainchild of Professor Derek O'Keeffe, a consultant endocrinologist.

Two years ago, he found some of his patients with diabetes were unable to make it into his clinic following Hurricane Ophelia, as a result of flooding.

The same thing happened after Storm Emma when patients were snowed in on their farms.

Prof O'Keeffe, who is also a qualified engineer, set out to develop a technological solution and protocols so that if similar or worse adverse weather situations happen again in the future, he would have the ability to use drones to deliver insulin to these patients and collect laboratory specimens if it was an emergency situation.

The whole operation was meticulously planned and despite the unpopularity of drones in European airspace it received approval from the Irish Aviation Authority.

"The seagull has landed," commented the team after the successful mission.

Prof O'Keeffe said precautions were taken to ensure the medication ends up in the right hands. "For example when there is a combination lock to the medication that only a doctor knows the code to," he explained.

The flight to the Aran Islands is part of a research project.

"These drone deliveries will become more common, particularly after what we have done," he said.

"Other companies can say these guys did it in European airspace and they followed all the rules."

The next step is to try it in a remote area of the country.

"The drone can withstand strong winds or rain," he said.

It would be most useful after a major storm or snowfall when normal transport options are still blocked.

Although it was an autonomous flight, there were two teams, one stationed at each location, consisting of three remote pilots to ensure the take-off and landing of the drone was performed safely.

Irish Independent

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