San Diego is one of the first regions to deliver medical specimens via drones

Blood samples delivered by drone? Medical specimens via drones may soon become a reality thanks to a new partnership between UPS Flight Forward and Matternet, in conjunction with UC San Diego Health.

Drone on black stand at UC San DIego in front of large building

Medical specimens take flight

Last week, the first medical specimens were delivered by drone as part of a larger effort to integrate drones into San Diego’s airspace as part of the Integration Pilot Program. UC San Diego Health will be utilizing UAS as a means to deliver medical specimens and supplies to expedite health care services. It has become common practice for labs to operate separately from a hospital. This new partnership may mean faster diagnosis, treatment, or even peace of mind.

“Right now, most biological samples must travel between sites by courier car, within designated hours,” said James Killeen, MD, clinical professor of emergency medicine and director of information technology services at UC San Diego School of Medicine in UC San Diego’s announcement. “That leaves the system vulnerable to the vagaries of road congestion, accidents, construction, and more. Travel time can be slow and unpredictable. A drone can fly over such obstacles in a much more direct way, and take just a few minutes to cover the same distance.”
If successful, drones may even be used for organ transport in the future.

Why San Diego is creating a drone hub

According to the FAA Aerospace Forecast and Drone Analytics, the global drone industry is projected to be worth $43 billion by 2024. As a region, San Diego has made a name for itself by capitalizing on nascent technologies that turn into major economic engines – think genomics and ICT/satellite technology.

That’s why in 2017, EDC – in collaboration with the City of San Diego – spearheaded San Diego’s application to serve as a site for the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Integration Pilot Program (IPP). San Diego as one of 10 jurisdictions that received the designation and the densest urban environment selected.

Today, EDC serves a much larger role as the program manager through an agreement with the City of San Diego. In addition to streamlining the process and clearing regulatory hurdles for operators (think companies like Matternet), the IPP also looks to position San Diego as a UAS center of excellence by encouraging the growth of the industry and building homegrown talent.

To achieve these goals, the IPP has four focus areas (International Relations, Environmental Survey, Public Safety, and Package Delivery), and boasts over 20 private, non-profit, government partners.

How the IPP launched SD’s first medical specimen flight

On  February 25, the FAA officially approved the UC San Diego Health flight route that enabled Matternet, as the UAS operator, to carry out this mission until April 2023. UC San Diego is the second hospital system in the nation to transport medical specimens via drones.

Related EDC articles and research:

EDC-led program helps Chula Vista PD hit new drone milestone

From surveying land after natural disasters to delivering packages, drones offer a world of possibilities to advance society and unlock economic potential. However, in order for this type of drone work to become a reality, they must be able to operate beyond a visual line of site(BVLOS). At the moment, no one is allowed to fly BVLOS in U.S. airspace without obtaining a special, hard-to-get waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Chula Vista Police Department is the exception. As part of the FAA’s Integration Pilot Program (IPP), San Diego is one of only 10 agencies nationwide selected to partner with private sector entities to accelerate safe UAS integration and innovation both regionally and nationally. In October, the Chula Vista Police Department announced a new test program to deploy drones as first responders. Now, thanks to the support of CAPE, Airmap and, Skyfire, the Chula Vista PD has become the first public safety agency within the 10 IPP destinations to receive a beyond visual line of sight waiver. This waiver will help Chula Vista continue to expand its Drone as First Responders program across the city providing faster responses and better services to the community.

San Diego’s IPP is comprised of the city of Chula Vista, the city of San Diego, and San Diego Regional EDC. Recognizing the potential of drone technology for the regional economy, EDC plays a key role in driving the IPP work and supporting the cities of Chula Vista and San Diego with successful integration.

Chula Vista PD launches drones as first responders, as part of UAS IPP program

Today, the Federal Aviation Administration, City of Chula Vista, City of San Diego, San Diego Regional EDC and Cape announced the launch of a test program to deploy drones for proactive public safety operations by the Chula Vista Police Department. This project has been made possible through the FAA’s Unmanned Aerial Systems Integrated Pilot Program (IPP).

As part of the IPP, drones equipped with Cape Aerial Telepresence software will be deployed to a scene within two minutes from Chula Vista Police Department headquarters, to provide police with video and decision quality data. In true #SDlifechanging fashion, these drones will serve as first responders, assisting in incidents such as life safety, crime in progress, fleeing subjects, fire and more. The drone program is an element of the Chula Vista Smart City Action Plan to implement technology and data tools to enhance city services, advance public safety, promote the efficient use of taxpayer dollars, engage residents, and encourage growth in the local economy. Simulation below:

San Diego region among first to deploy drones as first respondesers from San Diego on Vimeo.

Since CVPD began operations on October 22, a drone has been deployed 29 times. About 30 percent of those calls were related to some type of disturbance and about 17 percent of the time, drone pilots were able to clear a call without ground units responding (e.g., the subjects were gone), thereby keeping officers free for higher priority calls. The drone also was used to locate a felony domestic violence suspect in a transient camp surrounded by heavy vegetation. The drone pilot was able to safely direct officers to the camp while observing the suspect’s actions until he was arrested. The drone was also successfully used to locate and direct officers to arrest subjects on two other disturbance calls. These are just a few of the early successes of CVPD’s UAS pilot program. Drone pilots and patrol officers recognize the potential for even more public safety benefits as the program evolves.

San Diego’s IPP local program also will include projects like flying medical specimens from UC San Diego for expedited results and cost savings, testing food delivery from restaurants to consumers using Uber, and testing the integration and communication between driverless cars and unmanned aircraft systems.

The City of San Diego’s Homeland Security Department is collaborating with more than 20 regional organizations to implement the IPP. In addition to EDC, partners include: City of Chula Vista , Cape, AirMap, Qualcomm, AT&T, California Governor’s Military Council, California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GoBiz), Uber, UC San Diego Health, Intel, GE Ventures, and others.

The San Diego regional IPP is one of only 10 agencies nationwide chosen to participate, including the states of Kansas, Virginia, Alaska and North Dakota and the cities of Reno and Memphis. The San Diego region also was selected as one of 10 autonomous vehicle testing sites in the nation in 2017. The designated testing sites form a national community that share information and collaborate with the private sector to advance the safe development of unmanned vehicles.

The federal Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Integration Pilot Program (IPP) is an opportunity for state, local, and tribal governments to partner with private sector entities, such as UAS operators or manufacturers, to accelerate safe UAS integration. The Program is expected to foster a meaningful dialogue on the balance between local and national interests related to UAS integration and provide actionable information to the USDOT and FAA on expanded and universal integration of UAS into the National Airspace System.

For more information on the drone program, visit www.sandiego.gov/ohs/unmanned-aircraft-systems.

Aerospace in Southern Calfornia

Summary

The aerospace industry was built on the vision and dreams of entrepreneurs and risk-takers who have continually pushed the limits of technological innovation. While the technologies that are shaping the future of aerospace continue to evolve, Southern California’s rich, deep and strong ecosystem of large and small companies, research and educational partners, an active defense sector amid a culture of risk-taking and future-thinking remains one of the world’s most competitive regions for aerospace innovation.

This report, produced in collaboration with Los Angeles EDC, examines the state of the industry today and how it will evolve in the future.

Read the full report

Aerospace in SoCal Fact Sheet