US telecomms business AT&T is taking part in a proof of concept with Softbox to test connected medical payloads carried by drones. The goal is to successfully and safely deliver temperature-sensitive medicines using drones.
An LTE-connected drone carrying Softbox’s thermal-insulated packaging system “Skypod,” which includes a smartbox powered by AT&T’s Internet of Things (IoT) technology, successfully completed demonstration flights. The field trial with Merck, the pharmaceutical company, took place in locations across Puerto Rico. Softbox, based in the UK, provides specialist temperature control packaging to the pharmaceutical industry.
“Merck is pleased to collaborate on this innovative new model for delivering medicines to patients in areas affected by natural disasters,” said Merck executive director, corporate responsibility Brenda Colatrella. “We’re proud of our long history of expanding access to our medicines and vaccines and collaborating to provide humanitarian assistance. The drone test flights give us hope that we will be able to provide a reliable supply of our medicines for disaster.”
AT&T’s IoT technology tracks the Skypod with data viewed on a web and mobile app dashboard. The data includes near-real time external and internal temperatures of the box and its location. Light exposure data helps signal if there is box tampering during daylight, by determining if the box is open or closed.
The dashboard app will flash alerts to help drive appropriate action. For example, it will send an alert if there is a change to the temperature range of 2°C to 8°C. It will also send an alert if the drone goes outside of defined geofencing parameters.
AT&T and Softbox have adapted the Skypod from a connected flask prototype developed in the AT&T Foundry, which they showcased earlier this year. The AT&T Foundry is a network of innovation centers that collaborates with startups, technology providers and enterprises to move ideas to market faster through rapid prototyping. It moved the IoT sensors that track temperature and location from the lid of the original prototype and fit them into the smartbox.
“We’re proud to be working with AT&T in this dynamic, industry-first trial. The connected Skypod could be rapidly deployed globally in times of humanitarian disaster relief,” said Softbox technical director Richard Wood.