Drones for the health service: second testing phase for the transport of biomedical material completed

28 May 2021


Leonardo is continuing its trials into the benefits of transporting biomedical material by drones in partnership with Telespazio and the Bambino Gesù Children's Hospital, and with the authorisation of the Italian Civil Aviation Authority (ENAC). 

Following the previous phase, which ended successfully in October 2020, this second test saw the use of an electric drone fitted with new ‘lift and cruise’ technology – which has an automatic control mode when out of the operator's field of vision (BVLOS - Beyond Visual Line of Sight) – and the simulated transport of biomedical goods between the Santa Marinella collection centre and the Palidoro analysis centre 30km away, taking a route that was longer and passed further away from the coast.

This penultimate phase also witnessed an evolution to the Telespazio T-DROMES platform, with new command and control functions for the drone via satellite. The platform will be the main interface for the healthcare operator, which will be able to request the service using a simple app.

This is one of the first demonstrations in Italy of biomedical goods being delivered using electrically-powered, vertical take-off drones that can access routes with a very low ecological and acoustic impact. 

Further steps forward have also been taken by D-Flight’s dedicated drone traffic control platform (UTM), which will make it possible for traditional aviation and remotely piloted aircraft to coexist in the same airspace. This is made possible through the D-Flight platform’s innovative drone-tracking service which, through its operations room, enables coordination between drone operators and traditional air traffic control (ATC) authorities.

The Italian Air Force also took part in this test phase with a helicopter from the 85° Centro SAR of the 15th Pratica di Mare Wing carrying out a simulated search and rescue mission in an area of airspace crossed by the drone's route. In this situation – technically designated ‘contingency’ by virtue of the ‘life-saving’ nature of the Air Force mission – the drone’s route was temporarily modified to ensure the safe accomplishment of both flight missions. 

It was possible to reconfigure the route by sharing the airspace management procedures of the players involved at the test planning phase; this allowed for operational coordination between the manned and uncrewed systems through D-Flight and the ATC authorities in charge. 

The long-term objective is to extend the service carrying real biological samples - including urban environments - linking up different locations and health facilities with simultaneous operations by several drones.

Leonardo's innovative pathway within Advanced Air Delivery therefore continues to accelerate the launch of drones into the skies and, beginning in Italy, to contribute to the development of innovative sustainable services to support citizens.