Connectivity giant AT&T has collaborated with UK pharmaceutical packaging provider Softbox to explore the potential of medical drone deliveries.
AT&T’s LTE-connected drone has been ferrying Softbox’s thermal packaging system, ‘Skypod’, with medicines from healthcare provider Merck to locations across Puerto Rico.
The proof of concept with Softbox aims to show how temperature-sensitive medicines can be transported using drones in disaster and emergency situations – in a manner that is already occurring elsewhere in the world, including Zipline’s projects in Africa and Matternet’s applications in Switzerland.
“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.
“We’re proud of our long history of expanding access to our medicines and vaccines and collaborating to provide humanitarian assistance. The drone test flights give us hope that we will be able to provide a reliable supply of our medicines for disaster.”
Skypod and AT&T explore temperature tracked drone delivery
AT&T’s IoT technology tracks the Skypod and transmits data to a web and mobile app dashboard. Near-real-time external and internal temperature readings from the box, alongisde its location, allow all parties involved to check on the delivery status during flight.
The Skypod also gathers data pertaining to light exposure, flagging up in the event of tampering and ensuring that the box is properly sealed.
These alerts will drive appropriate action. For example, it will send an alert if there is a change to the refrigerated temperature range of 2°C to 8°C. It will also send an alert if the drone goes outside of defined geofence limits.
“We’re proud to be working with AT&T in this dynamic, industry-first trial. The connected Skypod could be rapidly deployed globally in times of humanitarian disaster relief,” said Softbox Technical Director Richard Wood.
AT&T builds on drone disaster relief experience
The application wouldn’t be possible without both the AT&T Global SIM and the AT&T Control Center – both of which are needed to connect and manage the Skypod’s sensor data transmission.
Last year, AT&T deployed the Flying COW, a Cell-on-Wings solution in the skies above Puerto Rico. Following Hurricane Maria, the drone solution represented the first time a UAV had been used to connect residents with their mobile phone services after a disaster.
“With the 2018 hurricane season upon us, we are thinking about the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria last year. This trial is a fantastic example of ‘IoT for Good,’ showcasing that it’s possible for connected medical drones to deliver vital medicines to people in times of disaster,” said AT&T Region President for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, John Vladimir Slamecka.