Direct Relief, Merck test drone delivery system for medicines in Puerto Rico

Direct Relief, Merck, AT&T, Softbox and Volans-i have announced they have partnered to pilot a test of emergency medical supply deliveries in Puerto Rico using drones to model an innovative approach to disaster response, the companies said.

The organizations are testing drone flights and the coordinated processes needed to provide medical supplies by drone in a temperature-controlled environment with real-time monitoring. The long-distance deliveries must comply with US and Puerto Rico laws and regulations for prescription drug delivery, including a documented chain of custody; Federal Aviation Administration approval for flight plans; and, for some products, must be consistently refrigerated to ensure the integrity and effectiveness of the medicines.

The drones are designed to carry the types of medications people often lose access to in disasters, which can lead to health crises or death. The technology of the smart boxes allows for temperature-control when delivering products such as some of Merck´s vaccines. The non-refrigerated cargo can carry medications for asthma and hypertension for instance.

Direct Relief is coordinating the effort, testing how such systems can be deployed in an emergency, and secured the participation of health centers in Puerto Rico.

Merck conceived of the project and is funding the tests and donating medications for delivery, using its Las Piedras facility as the departure point.

Softbox makes the small temperature controlled packaging system for transporting cold chain medications – those requiring constant refrigeration. AT&T´s Internet of Things (IoT) technology is being used to monitor the temperature and location of Softbox´s cold chain boxes.

Volans-i is providing the long-range delivery drones and is controlling the flights.