Organ delivery drones are currently in development between two companies, one in the United States and one in China. United Therapeutics, the American company, is spurring on this cooperative effort by placing an order for 1,000 organ delivery drones from a Chinese company called EHang. What's behind the development of organ delivery drones? The thought is that the organ delivery drones will speed up the amount of time it takes to transport organs for transplantation. Sometimes organs must be delivered to hospitals over great distances, and when it comes to organ transplants, time is critical.
The idea of organ delivery drones seems like a good one. But is it? The FAA already has put tough obstacles in place to make it incredibly difficult for commercial drones to be put into use or even tested by companies, including Amazon, which was toying with the idea of using drones to deliver packages. Will the United States sing a different tune when it comes to organ delivery drones?
The good news for United Therapeutics is that the idea of organ delivery drones is a long range plan. The development deal between the American company and the China-based EHang sets up a delivery date 15 years in the future. That might seem like a long time off, but figuring out an organ delivery drone that can be used without human remote control is something that will take more than a decade to develop. That's correct, the organ delivery drones that United Therapeutics and EHang are developing won't have anyone controlling them. The organ delivery drones will simply be given a set of coordinates and sent on their way.
Sounds impossible? Not really. EHang has already developed and produced a prototype of an autonomous helicopter that flies on its own last January. It was this sort of innovation that led United Therapeutics to realize that EHang would be the company to produce its vision of a fleet of organ delivery drones.
Martine Rothblatt, the CEO of Lung Biotechnology, a subsidiary of United Therapeutics that has been pushing for the organ delivery drones, commented on the partnership with EHang.
"The well-known locations of transplant hospitals and future organ manufacturing facilities makes the EHang technology ideal for Highway-In-The-Sky and Low-Level IFR Route programs. We anticipate delivering hundreds of organs a day, which means that the [organ delivery drones] system will help save not only tens of thousands of lives, but also many millions of gallons of aviation transport gasoline annually."
Not only is Lung Biotechnology working out the bugs of its future organ delivery drones, but it is also on the cutting edge of developing pig lungs that will be suitable for transplantation into human beings. In addition to that, they are also developing the regeneration of lungs using stem cells.
Lung Biotechnology plans to station its organ delivery drones outside of its manufacturing facilities, load them with a needed organ, pre-program the organ delivery drone with set coordinates, and launch them to the necessary hospital to get them there in time while they are still viable.
What will these drones look like? Most likely, the drones won't be what most people think of when they see the bombing drones that the government uses to attack terrorists in other countries. Instead, the organ delivery drones will be more of an advanced rotor type that can take off and land vertically. To achieve this, however, EHang will need to develop a solid, reliable organ delivery drone that can move much, much faster than present-day rotor-type drones.
If all goes well, if Lung Biotechnology can get their organ product approved by the FDA, and if the EHang developed organ transplant drones can get through some tough FAA restrictions, the cooperation between the two companies could revolutionize how transplant organs are delivered, saving thousands of lives.
[Photo by John Moore/Getty Images]