The university town of Siegen and Deutsche Telekom have started a joint research project called KODRONA. It should make drone flights possible for medical-logistical purposes. Telekom is contributing a new type of campus network.
The university city of Siegen and Deutsche Telekom want to make drone flights possible for medical logistical purposes in the future. They have entered into a partnership to ensure the necessary cellular infrastructure. This means that Telekom becomes a partner in the ongoing KODRONA research project (cooperative drone technology for medical applications). The Bonn-based company is delivering a new type of campus network that can be used to safely control the drones remotely.
Laboratory transport drones
KODRONA is a pilot project in North Rhine-Westphalia that is investigating the use of unmanned drones in a medical environment. The Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure has already funded the first phase of the project. Transport drones fly back and forth in urban airspace between the DRK children’s clinic and the Siegen district clinic. On an approximately 2.5 km long flight route, they transport the young patients’ medical laboratory samples directly to the central laboratory. This means that the test results are available to the doctors much faster. The transport adapts to current needs. The laboratory samples are currently transported several times a day by taxi.
The tricky challenge: the drone pilots cannot see their aircraft directly. The rapid transport of the samples through the air takes place out of your sight. So far, the use of drones in hospitals has not even been generally allowed. A permit is also required to operate drones out of sight. This is to prevent collisions or dangerous approaches with a rescue helicopter.
However, the new EU drone regulation will open up new possibilities in the future. The Siegen project has therefore already received a special ascent permit from the responsible aviation authorities for the feasibility study.
Digital transport services for medical care
The pilot project in Siegen is now intended to show how digital transport services for medical care can be set up and operated safely. Three clinics, the University of Siegen and the city are working together with a drone manufacturer, a control room specialist and Telekom on the innovative transport solution.
“Here we have the opportunity to work with new technologies and to put them at the service of the people,” says Dominik Eichbaum, project manager from the city of Siegen. “This also includes building the mobile communications infrastructure that supports the entire process. The drone pilots must control the aircraft via a secure cellular network and the drone control center must be connected in a fail-safe manner. ”
The aim of the joint project is the first development of a prototype in a medical environment. It includes setting up a safe flight route out of sight of the drone pilots and the infrastructure for take-off and landing. This also includes the implementation of collision-free cooperative air transport for the transport of laboratory samples or other medical material between the clinics.
Campus network for test operation
The use of unmanned transport drones and transport containers takes place in accordance with the applicable aviation and medical law. The drone pilots control the aircraft via a secure cellular network at an altitude of 80 meters. “Since the quality of the mobile network coverage is crucial for the test operation, we carried out a real-time measurement during the drone flight,” says Thomas Runge, Head of Economic Development for the City of Siegen.
“So that pilots can fly the drones out of sight, the aircraft send live images from a built-in camera to the control center. This requires a powerful network and low latency. A particularly fast response time of the communication network is essential for delay-free control.” emphasizes Hagen Rickmann, responsible for the business customer area at Telekom Deutschland GmbH.
The public LTE mobile network (4G) forms the basis for data exchange. Deutsche Telekom will put a special campus network into operation that will only be available for communication between the drone and the control center. It enables reliable data transmission even with temporary load peaks. In this way, images and control commands are transmitted even faster and the safe flight of the drones is supported. The campus network is implemented using the existing antennas. The product “Campus Network M” is used in the project.
In the past few months, the use of drones has already been prepared as part of a feasibility study. The next stage now includes a test run under real conditions. Here, the dependencies of the use of drones on the weather, the integration into operating processes and official communication interfaces as well as the cooperation with other parties involved are examined.
Test operation will begin in early 2021, subject to follow-up funding. In the long term, a completely autonomous shuttle service between the DRK children’s clinic and the Siegen district clinic is planned in regular operation. In addition, the importance of 5G radio networks for such municipal applications is examined.