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History-Making Organ Flight Honored With Award to UAS Test Site

Breakthrough Could Lead to Safer, Faster, More Reliable Deliveries for Transplants Nationwide

By Robert Herschbach

Drone lands with organ

Photo courtesy of University of Maryland Medical Center.

An unmanned aircraft built and flown by staff at the University of Maryland UAS Test Site lands at R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore in April 2019 carrying a box containing a kidney, the first organ ever delivered to a patient by drone. Below, test site personnel carry the drone to physicians at the University of Maryland Medical Center who'll carry out the procedure. The UAS Test Site will receive a major industry award Thursday for the historic flight.

University of Maryland unmanned aviation pioneers will receive a high-profile award tomorrow from the Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International (AUVSI) for a historic April 2019 flight that resulted in the first-ever delivery of a viable organ for transplant.

AUVSI announced the winners of its annual XCELLENCE Awards on Sept. 30, naming the UMD Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Test Site, which carried out the organ flight in collaboration with the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) and the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), as a winner in the Humanitarian and Public Safety category. The award will be officially presented during the association’s XPONENTIAL conference.

“We are excited by this recognition,” said Matt Scassero, director of the UMD UAS Test Site. “AUVSI continues to provide valued support for innovations that advance the UAS industry and bring measurable benefits to individuals and communities.”

The award-winning mission was conducted in the early hours of April 19, 2019, as a specially designed unmanned aircraft—equipped with eight rotors, multiple powertrains and an emergency parachute system—took off from a location in West Baltimore. It then flew soared across the downtown area to deliver a kidney to surgeons at UMMC, who conducted a successful transplant operation.Test site personnel carry a drone on the roof of Shock Trauma.

The idea was conceived by Dr. Joseph R. Scalea, associate professor of surgery at UMSOM and a transplant surgeon at UMMC, and subsequently became a reality through collaboration between the UMD UAS Test Site, UMSOM, UMMC, UMD’s Department of Aerospace Engineering, and a donor organization, the Living Legacy Foundation.

Conducted after months of research and testing, the successful flight represented a breakthrough that could jump-start efforts to bring about safer, more reliable organ delivery through the use of UAS, as companies develop the approach further. 

“The Humanitarian and Public Safety Awards demonstrate the profound ability of the recipients to positively impact lives through unmanned systems technology and create tremendous good will for our industry” said Brian Wynne, president and CEO of AUVSI. 



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