Routine BVLOS Operations: France Adopts Drone Delivery as a Daily Reality

June 27, 2023

Bourgoin-Jallieu, France. 27 June 2023 Biogroup has been testing sample collection by drones in Isère, France, in collaboration with RigiTech. Far from being a mere gadget, drones allow for the safe collection of samples in hard-to-reach areas, ensuring that all patients receive the results of their medical analyses quickly. 

In recent years, the field of medical biology in France has undergone significant changes due to laboratory consolidation aimed at meeting new standards for the quality and safety of medical analyses. This consolidation has required a major logistical reorganisation, where the speed and efficiency of sample management have become key factors in ensuring optimal patient care.

In this context, technological innovation now plays a crucial role by offering innovative solutions to optimise laboratory logistics. In an increasingly constrained economic environment, one of these solutions is the transport of samples by drones, developed and tested by Biogroup, which guarantees faster processing times and more efficient patient care. Learn more about the Eiger.

MEDICAL DRONE: AN AMBITIOUS AND INNOVATIVE PROJECT

The greatest potential for innovation lies in the pre-analytical phase, which is crucial for ensuring the reliability of results. Based on this realisation, Biogroup launched the “Danaüs” project in 2018 in partnership with RigiTech, firmly believing that logistics is an important lever for improving patient care management.

OCTOBER 2021: THE BEGINNING OF THE ADVENTURE

In October 2021, the technical solution was presented to the authorities with the first autonomous demonstration of a transport flight between our technical platform in Bourgoin-Jallieu and the pre/post-analytical site in Tigneux, a distance of 27 kilometres covered in 15 minutes by our drone instead of the usual 45 minutes required by our courier.

A (R)EVOLUTION IS UNDERWAY

The project faced substantial complexity due to the lack of regulations governing the transportation of biological materials and the absence of provisions for autonomous daily flights in drone operations. Our project was therefore a first for the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGAC): we requested the opening of a dedicated and permanent airspace corridor to be integrated into the French airspace. This required reaching an agreement with all decision-makers and stakeholders, including the DGAC, DSNA, the prefecture of Isère, Lyon airport, the Ministry of Defense, the municipality of Tigneux, the Frontonas airbase, the hospital, the Bourgoin-Jallieu emergency medical services (SAMU), and their heliport! In a regulatory environment that has been constantly changing in the past two years, we have been able to rely on the significant involvement and assistance of government services. Finally, since January 2023, the project has been operational.

SAFETY FIRST

This is one of the key elements for the success of our project: Technical reliability and safety have reassured all stakeholders.

Operational Safety:

    • Creation of an inviolable digital corridor (geo-fencing): even in the event of losing control of the drone, it cannot cross these virtual barriers.
    • Continuous real-time monitoring of the drone by the Lyon airport control tower and the laboratory’s remote pilot.
    • The remote pilot can take control of the drone at any time using the RigiCloud software.
    • Establishment of “rally points” every 500 metres along the route, allowing for emergency landings if needed (e.g., unforeseen arrival of a SAMU helicopter).

    Hardware Safety:

      • Eiger drone equipped with an emergency parachute.
      • Redundancy of key components (GPS, transmission, etc.).
      • Diversification of protocols to eliminate interference (4G system and 2.4 MHz radio).

      The precision of the Eiger’s automatic piloting has been impressive: measurements taken by the RigiCloud software have shown an altitude drift never exceeding 1 metre over the 2,215 kilometres of flights conducted to date (it is not uncommon for commercial aircraft to have altitude variances of up to 200 feet, which is over 60 metres).

      TOMORROW AND BEYOND

      The year 2023 marks the final phase of development of our project, with the deployment across our laboratory network through the opening of new routes. The extensive work carried out in partnership with local authorities will benefit other future projects: we have proven to the authorities that a viable solution for transporting biological samples by drone is possible and safe. The opening of new airspace corridors for RigiTech drones is now easier and will enable nationwide deployment. In parallel, similar initiatives have been undertaken by our European subsidiaries and are on the verge of being completed.

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