Abu Dhabi on track to operate world’s first city-wide medical drone network

Using drones to transfer and deliver medical supplies is now a step closer to becoming a reality in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) capital.

Abu Dhabi’s Department of Health (DoH) has announced it is in the process of testing an advanced drone network for the healthcare sector in the emirate. Said to be a “first of its kind” project in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, the new network – made up of 40 drone stations – is expected to be established in 2022.

Working with the DoH on the project are the country’s General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), Abu Dhabi’s SkyGo, and the California-headquartered Matternet. The network is expected to operate “around the clock”, forming part of Abu Dhabi’s emergency response network.

“With advanced infrastructure, Abu Dhabi is capable of serving as a test bed for promising innovations with practical use-cases, especially those that seek to preserve the health and safety of our population,” said DoH chairman, His Excellency Abdullah bin Mohammed Al Hamed. “We look forward to bringing this project to life and seeing it become one of Abu Dhabi’s pioneering initiatives.”

Matternet CEO, Andreas Raptopoulos, added: “The complementary expertise and synergies with SkyGo have enabled us to move at unprecedented speed with plans to launch a network covering dozens of Abu Dhabi healthcare facilities in just the first year of operation. 

“This will be a model for the rest of the world on how to successfully scale drone delivery for the benefit of healthcare and society overall.”

THE LARGER CONTEXT

The aim of the project is for drones to safely transfer medical supplies, medicine, blood units, vaccines, and samples between laboratories, pharmacies, blood banks, and healthcare facilities in the city.

Phase One of testing has reportedly already been completed, with Phase Two now being run and scheduled to conclude by the end of the year.

A recent demonstration is said to have involved transporting and delivering medical samples from Zayed Sports City to an undisclosed laboratory.

“The samples were transported with end to end chain of custody [GDPS compliant], while the drone flew autonomously at an altitude of 300 feet above ground level,” the DoH said in a statement.

WHY IT MATTERS

According to the DoH, the project will “help in emergencies and contribute to reducing occupancy rates in healthcare facilities as well as enhancing the quality of patient outcomes.” The Authority added that the network is also expected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and traffic congestion.

In terms of the wider government, the establishment of the network is in line with the UAE Projects of the 50 initiative, and the UAE’s Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) Strategy.

ON THE RECORD

H.E. Al Hamed added: “Under the wise leadership and its directives, we look forward to working with our partners to make Abu Dhabi the first city in the MENA to adopt and [make] use of this technology. We will continue to deploy advanced technologies that will improve the healthcare sector for the benefit of citizens and residents.

“Looking ahead, we will continue working towards establishing the emirate as a global healthcare hub while at the same time developing a healthcare system that is fit for the future.”

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