FDNY explores drone deliveries of blood to first responders

drone deliveries blood

The New York City Fire Department is looking into the possibilities of using drones as a faster option to deliver blood supplies to accident sites than traditional road transportation.

The details of the plan were revealed in a sharp story by StateScoop, quoting NYC officials involved with the project. The main idea is for a specialized app to be used by first responders to order blood supplies they need to care for victims at accident, fire, or disaster sites. Those would then be immediately collected at dedicated centers by nearby FDNY UAV pilots, who’d then fly them to the emergency locales.

The scheme would replace what are currently phoned-in requests for plasma, which are generally driven to public safety workers where they’re needed. That method, of course, is forever at risk of being slowed by traffic blockages, especially as vehicles near the often chaotic rescue venues. 

To avoid landings complicated by obstructions, the system would either rely on previously approved clear spots – a parking lot or field, perhaps – or require the person making the delivery request to go through a series of verifications to ensure the area contains no potentially dangerous difficulties for the UAV.

In addition to faster delivery by drones, the entire process of shuttling blood supplies where they’re needed is also designed to be more transparent by using barcodes on each product ordered and transported.

Niftier still, officials involved in the city’s NYCx innovation program behind the innovation envisage supply centers eventually stocking all kinds of urgent supplies needed by first responders in emergencies, which might similarly be dispatched by UAV. 

Justin Isaf Man, the associate chief technology officer of digital services for the city’s chief tech official, described to StateScoop how the use of drones to deliver blood might work.

“A first responder or dispatcher can ask for blood through the app, it pings on the blood center for an order, they pack it, it generates a bar code for end-to-end tracking of the blood,” he said. “The person preparing the package scans a bar code, it registers in the system, a drone pilot from FDNY comes and picks it up at the blood center, takes it to the requested location.

“It gets dropped off,” Man continues. “The requester scans the barcode to continue tracking the life cycle, the drone pilot returns to base to wait for the next request, and hopefully someone’s life gets saved along the way.”

The app-based approach for using drones to make deliveries of blood supplies arose from the third round of NYCx project development sessions, whose most recent 10-week programed ended in October. As a means of continuing work on the concept, FDNY’s technology unit has adopted the project to conduct initial testing in the state’s dedicated 50-mile drone corridor between Rome and Syracuse. 

Even if those trials prove successful on technical and operational grounds, however, New York fire officials would then doubtless need to navigate a long, arduous approval process to obtain authorization to make drone blood supply deliveries above the crowded, bustling city. 

Photo: John Jemison

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