Spright and Wonder Robotics team to bring drones in for safe landings
By Jim Magill
Spright, a drone-based medical delivery start-up, will use a system designed by Israel-based Wonder Robotics that enables unmanned electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft to safely land, either on a designated landing pad or an alternate emergency landing site, without operator involvement.
Under an agreement announced last month, Spright, Air Methods’ new drone division, will incorporate Wonder Robotics’ Wonderland system into its network, which is designed to fly Wingcopter 198 eVTOL aircraft to deliver medical supplies and perform other drone-related services at locations across the United States.
Spright currently is testing proof-of-concept projects in multiple locations around the United States and hopes to launch daily drone missions serving healthcare locations in several states by the end of 2022.
In an interview, Spright President Joe Resnick said the Wonderland system would help his company achieve its goals of safely flying its aircraft autonomously for long distances and over people with assured safe landings.
“It’s not just a precision landing system. It’s got the capability so that in an emergency if the aircraft has to initiate a landing, we can ensure through the system and through our pilot’s monitoring that we’re not going to land on any objects or any people,” he said.
Resnick said Spright looked at a number of autonomous landing systems before choosing the Wonder Robotics technology. “On the landing site itself, under normal operations, the precision landing system is spectacular. I think it’s better than anything else we’ve looked at,” he said.
“Our focus is on medical delivery. So, ensuring that we’ve got accuracy in landing in the same spot is critical, especially considering that the distances we’ll be flying will be anywhere from 25 to 40 miles one way.”
As the eVTOL drone makes its vertical descent, the Wonderland system applies advanced 2D semantic algorithms and 3D geometric analysis of the designated landing site, to detect any obstacles or impediments, such as a person walking across the site, that could interfere with a safe landing. If it determines the original landing site to be unsafe for any reason, the software has the capability of selecting an alternate site where the drone can safely land.
Resnick said this ability of the software to enable the aircraft to divert to an alternate emergency landing site is crucial in the event that there is a disruption at the designated landing site, such as a medical transport helicopter arriving at the helipad at the same time as a medical supply drone.
“It gives us the confidence that the aircraft will have the ability to land someplace safe that won’t impact any people or objects or property,” he said.
Medical supply delivery and beyond
Spright, which was founded in June 2020 is a wholly owned subsidiary of Air Methods, the largest single-certificate medical air operator in the United States. “We’ve got about 300 bases across the U.S. that support hospitals, EMS agencies and other medical partners for inter-facility transport,” Resnick said.
The company specializes in business-to -business medical deliveries between laboratories, hospitals, pharmacies and other health-care related facilities. “Whether it be medicines or lab samples, our goal is to increase the efficiency and decrease the amount of time that it takes to transport those items between facilities, whether it be from hospital to hospital, collection site to lab, or whatever it might be.”
For example, Spright is coordinating with Rice County District Hospital and Hutchinson Regional Medical Center, Kansas to set up a network to transport medical supplies, tissue samples and blood. The company also is working with the FAA and local authorities to secure the authorizations that will allow it to fly missions on a regular basis between the two medical facilities
Frequently, smaller, more rural facilities don’t keep all the supplies they need in stock and must send a nurse or a courier to pick up the needed items at a larger medical facility some distance away, Resnick said.
“Instead of taking care of patients, they’re driving to pick up equipment and supplies,” he said. “Using drones, we can actually do that in some cases in as short as 23 minutes, displacing a drive that can take an hour and a half.”
With their ability to take off vertically like a helicopter and fly like a fixed-wing plane, the electric-powered Wingcopter aircraft can carry packages of up to 10 pounds, for a distance of 40 to 50 miles. With a change of batteries, accomplished in about five minutes, the eVTOL vehicle can be sent aloft again for its return flight, while transporting another package.
The drone-delivery system allows the medical facilities to maintain a secure chain of custody, allowing only designated personnel to have access to the aircraft and their valuable cargo.
Seeking to expand beyond its initial medical supply delivery business, Spright is also looking to branch out into other drone applications, such as infrastructure inspection, Resnick said.
“We’ve got opportunities across the U.S. with both large and small utility companies, doing line inspections, right-of-way inspections and infrastructure inspections, to get them the support they need to make sure that their reliability is at a level that they expect for their customers,” he said.
Read more about Wingcopter, Spright, and medical drone delivery:
Jim Magill is a Houston-based writer with almost a quarter-century of experience covering technical and economic developments in the oil and gas industry. After retiring in December 2019 as a senior editor with S&P Global Platts, Jim began writing about emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, robots and drones, and the ways in which they’re contributing to our society. In addition to DroneLife, Jim is a contributor to Forbes.com and his work has appeared in the Houston Chronicle, U.S. News & World Report, and Unmanned Systems, a publication of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.
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