12 miles to life: Chesapeake Bay flight shows role for UAS in emergencies

October 21, 2016  - By
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The University of Maryland (UMD) Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Test Site, along with and Shore Regional Health, conducted on Aug. 24 the state’s first civil unmanned aerial delivery of simulated medical cargo. Engineers from UMD flew a Talon 120LE fixed-wing aircraft across the Chesapeake Bay with saline solution simulating four vials of Epinephrine to demonstrate the key role that UAS can play in emergency situations.

First Responsders. “This is a major achievement for our test site and for the University of Maryland,” said Darryll Pines, dean of the School of Engineering. “What this flight demonstrates is the incredible potential that UAS have in assisting first responders in emergencies. As more of these aircraft enter the skies, demonstrations of their use in service to humanity will grow substantially.”

Weighing 22 pounds at take-off, the small UAS was hand launched from the shores of Flag Ponds Nature Park in Lusby, and landed at Ragged Island Private Airport in Cambridge, flying 12 miles over 28 minutes. The flight was autonomous with man-on-the-loop with ability to intercede.

The UAV was greeted by a security officer from Shore Regional Health who retrieved the package and transported it to the Shore Medical Center at Dorchester.

“We wanted to simulate a situation when weather, traffic or other disaster made more traditional means of transportation impossible. UAS are faster to deploy, less weather dependent and less expensive,” said Matthew Scassero, director of the UMD UAS Test Site.

Flight path as recorded by aircraft GPS. The loiter midway allowed confirmation of the radio monitoring/control signal handoff. Loiter will not be necessary for operational flights.(Image: UMD)

Flight path as recorded by aircraft GPS. The loiter midway allowed confirmation of the radio monitoring/control signal handoff. Loiter will not be necessary for operational flights.(Image: UMD)

The test also helped Shore Regional Health explore new ways of providing access to medical care to rural areas, according to William Huffner, Shore’s chief medical officer. UAS technology has the potential to bring supplies not only to medical staff, but also directly to patients in isolated areas.

“In emergency situations, every second counts,” Scassero said. “Imagine being able to deploy insulin or another critical medication to someone in need by landing or dropping it right in their backyard.”

Talon UAV. The Talon 120LE is made of 7075 aircraft-grade aluminum, foam and composite materials. Scassero said that the team chose a Talon 120LE because of its “payload capacity, stability and reliability.” With an endurance of greater than two hours, its modular nose payload section and wing pods, it can carry payloads up to 2.5 pounds. The aircraft flies autonomously and lands on its belly.

Scassero said the use of UAS will be critical in future emergencies. “Using UAS for cargo will allow them to operate in tandem with manned aircraft to work together for these types of humanitarian missions and others, such as search and rescue,” he said.

Next Steps. Following this successfull test, the test site is looking at different operational control paradigms (suc as network or satellite), health IT cueing of the system, different vehicles for various applications, and different flight environments.

GPS ground speed. (Figure: UMD)

GPS ground speed. (Figure: UMD)

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