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Palo Alto: Drones Could Shuttle Blood in Trial Program

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Emergency blood supplies could be shuttled through the skies above Palo Alto if the federal government chooses the city for an experiment.

Stanford Blood Center and Menlo Park-based drone manufacturer Matternet late last year approached Palo Alto with a plan to deliver blood to Stanford Hospital via drones during blood shortages after learning that the Federal Aviation Administration was soliciting trial drone projects.

The FAA plans to sponsor five projects around the nation in which public partnerships team up with private drone companies to help facilitate safe commercial and government drone uses.

Palo Alto decided it wants to be counted in, so last month it applied to participate in the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program, whose purpose is to resolve safety, noise and privacy problems as well as other issues before unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can become commonplace.

The FAA closed the application process Thursday. Along with the Stanford Blood Center concept, the city’s application includes an idea by Germany-based drone maker Multirotor to use its drones at Palo Alto Airport for surveillance of runway debris or wildlife interference.

If Palo Alto is chosen, Stanford and Matternet propose to install a flight path west of Junipero Serra Boulevard between the blood center and hospital, according to a staff report. Before anything can happen, staff would have to do some community outreach and any necessary environmental reviews and the City Council would have to vote its approval.

There would be no direct cost to the city — all expenses would be paid for by the other participating entities — but as lead agency Palo Alto would provide some staff time. The city could withdraw at any point it determines the project “is not proceeding in a positive direction,” the staff report states.

“We aim to use UAVs in very limited clinical settings where timely delivery of blood products or diagnostic specimens is of the utmost importance,” the Stanford Blood Center said in a written statement. “Examples include emergent delivery of blood products from Stanford Blood Center when there are patients whose usage outpace the available in-house inventory at the hospital. More importantly, we are extremely aware and sensitive to the concerns of residents; every measure to eliminate intrusiveness and maximize safety will be taken.”

Matternet, which is already delivering blood and other emergency supplies via drones in Switzerland, said this would be the first such application in the United States if approved.

“We’re very excited to be working with one of the best medical institutions in the world to bring this technology to the U.S.,” Matternet CEO Andreas Raptopoulos said in an email. “Our drone delivery system is like a virtual pneumatic tube, offering instant access to blood, medicine or lab equipment to any facility within a hospital system. This can mean better quality of care, and potentially millions of dollars in operational savings per year for a hospital system like Stanford.”

Multirotor, which counts the Berlin Police Department and German Army among public sector clients using its UAVs, said its systems are safer, more efficient and “greener” than manned systems. Multirotor recently set up an office in Redwood City where it aims to “unlock the US market and to win local partners for adapting our technology to the specific requirements of US customers,” it said in a statement. ___


This article is written by Kevin Kelly from Palo Alto Daily News, Calif. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

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