Universities Researching Drone Technology to Deliver Aid

Increasingly universities are collaborating with private firms and other government agencies to examine how drones can be used in crisis situations to deliver aid and medical relief. Two such initiatives were announced this week.

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School have received  funding from the Massachusetts Central Homeland Security Advisory Council and Worcester Emergency Management to explore how drone technology can be deployed in real-time to assess an emergency situation.

Edward Boyer, MD, PhD, professor of emergency medicine, said drones could be used to identify individuals who may be buried under rubble and find them faster enabling first responders to quickly intervene and provide medical attention. Dr. Boyer and colleagues Peter Chai, MD, assistant professor of emergency medicine, John Broach, assistant professor in emergency medicine, and Alex Hart, resident in emergency medicine, are conducting the study.

They are determining whether drones could lead to better analysis of the situation and care of patients. If so, they hope to train first responders how to use the technology in the field.

The team has plans to test the technology at a disaster training drill in Worcester in September.


Another effort using drones to deliver relief is being spearheaded by Stony Brook University in partnership with Vayu, Inc. and with support from the Madagascar government and backing from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). They have completed the first ever series of long-range, fully autonomous drone flights with blood and stool samples.

The samples were flown from villages in rural Madagascar to Stony Brook University’s Centre ValBio research station, for further testing. The unique ability of Vayu’s drone to take off and land like a helicopter and fly long distances could help innumerable vulnerable remote communities get the medical care they deserve.

“The flights to and from villages in the Ifanadiana district [of Madagascar] ushers in a new era in bringing healthcare to people living in really remote settings,” said Dr. Peter Small, the Founding Director of Stony Brook’s Global Health Institute. “This would not have been possible without the support of the government and people of Madagascar “In this context drones will find innumerable uses such as accelerating the diagnosis of tuberculosis and ensuring the delivery of vaccines.”

“Vayu’s accomplishment is as significant for the field of public health in developing countries, where limited access hinders healthcare as it is for the future of autonomous unmanned vehicles,” said Vayu’s CEO, Daniel Pepper, a former international journalist and medical student-turned-founder of Vayu.


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