“MOM, LOOK! A DRONE! WHAT IS IT CARRYING?” – “FAKE BLOOD, HONEY”. The second week of July came with an important achievement that could show to the world that drones operating in urban environments are very much possible. In this case, Sweden went a step further – a Swedish drone was able to lift off, fly and land completely autonomously in an urban environment. It did so while carrying fake blood as a test object, which brings to light yet another application made possible by autonomous drone technology – medicine and emergency services. Blood delivered to your front door … soon a reality?
DRONES TO SAVE LIVES
Drone technology has seen a rapid rise in Sweden over the last five years but experimentation has been halted by a common problem that exists in many places in the world. in Many may not realize it, but even in the world of drones and innovation some actions are required to take to get through the web of bureaucracy. This was the case for Everdrone, a Swedish company making the list of the 33 hottest companies in the country in 2019. It was founded in 2016 by Maciek Drejak and Mats Sällström and has been continuously developing their technology and showcasing it abroad. As the first ever company in Sweden to be granted permission to operate drones in urban environments, it has showed in previous instances that its technology is capable enough to operate through different climates, terrains and environments.
In 2017, their technology, which was labelled the “drone technology of the future”, was able to deliver medical supplies in a special humanitarian “drone corridor” set up by UNICEF in Malawi. Their mission is precisely that – to use their technology and focus on applications that can save lives. Contrary to some other drone companies, they do not rely only on GPS. Instead, they have a vision technology that is based on a sensor rig with RGB and IR cameras. According to their website, they are able to provide a full 360 degree picture with “depth information” about the drone’s surroundings at a speed of up to 90 images per second. This allows the drone to smartly navigate in tight, urban environments which was the latest feat.
The big event happened two weeks ago. Upon receiving a green light from the principal transportation body in Sweden, it was allowed to start using it in the urban environment of Gothenburg, Sweden’s second largest city. Overlooking a small courtyard at Mölndal’s hospital south of Gothenburg, the patients there probably did not expect that the hospital stay would include witnessing Sweden’s first fully autonomous drone delivery in an urban environment. A video stream was sent from the drone located at Sahlgrenska University Hospital about 4 kilometers away from Mölndal Hospital and the drone itself was loaded with three test tubes containing a red liquid that resembled blood. Suddenly, the stream showed how the drone lifted from its position and started to rise. It continued in an upwards trajectory until it reached about 70 meters in height as it then started whizzing towards Mölndal Hospital at a rate of 50 kilometers per hour.
The drone, a DJI S900, weighs about 8 kilos with the extra equipment required to fly autonomously and measures one meter in diameter. The drone also has a transponder that broadcasts the position and can receive and view other aircraft and their transponder information. The drone also connects to various GPS satellites at once and during the takeoff two weeks ago it connected to 17 – which allowed for good precision. At a height of 70 meters where there are no obstacles, it relies primarily on the information from the navigation satellites, even though the underlying camera-based navigation system is still active and registers its surroundings.
The landing site at Mölndal Hospital is located in a courtyard surrounded by tall buildings. In such an environment, you cannot rely on traditional GPS positioning, it simply won\’t be safe enough. Instead, Everdrone’s visual navigation system partly ensures the distance to the surrounding obstacles, and guides the drone towards a special landing marker on the ground. Seven stereo cameras called Realsense are placed under the drone itself and the information from each camera unit is woven together by Everdrone’s algorithms and forms a high-resolution three-dimensional image of the reality that the drone uses to navigate. The sensors generate 5 gigabytes of data per minute, processed locally using a powerful Intel Nuc computer. While of course it could carry regular vials of blood, it used fake blood in this case. After the drone carefully landed exactly at its intended location and the “package” symbolically handed over to Marie Löfgren, service manager in the Västra Götaland region, Sweden’s first autonomous and urban fake blood delivery was made. [Source: Nyteknik]
“It feels great fun to be the first in Sweden to carry out this type of flight. We see great potential with self-driving drones in the future, not least in healthcare, but in order to make the technology available, we must be able to show that it works and is safe. This type of demonstration proves that both the technology and the regulations have matured to the extent that we can now conduct fully realistic flights”, says Mats Sällström, CEO of Everdrone, in a press release.
With autonomous drone technology predicted to be applied in a number of principal delivery companies, it is interesting to see that its applications in medicine and emergency services are working just fine in Everdrone’s case. With Everdrone set to continue improving its technology, we will be following their story attentively . . . Did someone order a vial of blood?
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