Drone Delivers Kidney for Transplant in Baltimore

University of Maryland Medical Center

If you thought that drones could only deliver packages and snacks, think again: a Baltimore woman is now the owner of a drone-delivered kidney and the proud recipient of the first successfully drone-delivered transplant.

The traveling kidney was flown via an eight-rotor drone from West Baltimore to the University of Maryland Medical Center, in order to be delivered to a 44-year old patient who had been on dialysis for years.

The flight lasted only 10 minutes and served as an example that drones could, indeed, transport organs in good enough time and conditions to allow them to be implanted immediately after the flight.

Previous tests included the drone transporting saline, blood tubes and other materials and this final push was preceded by the very first drone of the state of Maryland simulating a medical cargo delivery, back in 2016.

It has all led to this.

This flight saw a lot of firsts: among them, a specially designed apparatus that maintained and monitored the organ, keeping it at an optimal temperature.

Another first was a custom-built drone designed specifically for this type of delivery: it features eight rotors and multiple powertrains that ensure the machine will still perform even in the case of a component failure.

We had to create a new system that was still within the regulatory structure of the FAA, but also capable of carrying the additional weight of the organ, cameras, and organ tracking, communications, and safety systems over an urban, densely populated area—for a longer distance and with more endurance,” Matthew Scassero, MPA, director of UMD’s UAS Test Site and part of A. James Clark School of Engineering “There’s a tremendous amount of pressure knowing there’s a person waiting for that organ, but it’s also a special privilege to be a part of this critical mission.

A mesh network was arranged to control the drone as well – it helped the ground team monitor its status and it provided them with communications at multiple locations.

For more than 25 years, the University of Maryland Medical Center has provided cutting-edge care in organ transplantation,” Mohan Suntha, MD, MBA, President and CEO of the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore said in a press statementOur Transplant Program cares for patients who come from our local community, the state and the nation, many of whom have been turned away at other hospitals, because we have the skill, talent and knowledge to advance even the most complex transplant cases, often times not just improving but saving lives.”

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