A Wayne State Student’s Drone Delivers Medicine Faster Than an Ambulance

A medical student at Detroit’s Wayne State University is working to implement a drone-based health care delivery system designed for urban settings.
Albert Jose, Matthew Tukel, Connor Tukel
Matthew Tukel, center, and Connor Tukel, right, wrote a paper that proves a drone carrying medicine that prevents opioid overdoses can get to patients faster than ambulances. Also pictured is Albert Jose, who worked with Matthew Tukel to found Detroit Aerial Innovations, a drone curriculum. // Photo courtesy of Wayne State University

A medical student at Detroit’s Wayne State University is working to implement a drone-based health care delivery system designed for urban settings.

In an article titled “Time-to-scene for opioid overdoses: Are unmanned aerial drones faster than traditional first responders in an urban environment?” Matthew Tukel, a fourth-year medical student, proves that a drone carrying naloxone, or Narcan, an opioid overdose reversal drug, is capable of traveling several ranges of straight-line distance faster than an ambulance.

Tukel determined with 95 percent certainty that drone arrival times were discernably quicker than ambulance arrival times at all distances where sufficient data were available to perform statistical comparisons, from 0.5-3 kilometers.

Tukel and his brother, Connor Tukel, a medical student in New York, wrote the article with Chicago physics doctoral student Robert Weinbaum and with assistance from Dr. Phillip Levy, an emergency medicine physician and vice president of translational science and clinical research innovation at WSU.

The drone, called the DJI Inspire 2, is designed to work hand-in-hand with first responders and has a high intensity headlamp, first-person view camera, payload delivery system, and shockproof container for carrying intranasal naloxone. Naloxone’s effectiveness is time dependent, and the drone is applicable in cities where ambulances do not satisfy the number of patients who need services.

“Publication is a very big deal for us,” Matthew Tukel says. “Back when we first started pitching the concept, we were met with some funny looks and a fair amount of skepticism. While we understood that it was an ambitious undertaking, we were committed to taking the idea from the drawing board to a fully operational vehicle suitable for conducting research. This peer-reviewed publication lends a certain amount of objective validation to the idea, so that as we pursue the next steps and pursue additional funding/academic support, we will no longer just be pitching a theoretical idea.”

The students are considering additional uses for their drone technology.

“Rapid delivery of pre-hospital medication is critical in many life-threatening situations. As such, we intend to prove that this platform is capable not just of delivering Narcan, but any type of medication or device that could be used to save someone’s life,” Tukel says.

They will also explore how the technology can be used to improve inefficiencies in the transport of medical supplies and biological specimens, including how drones can be used to enable more timely delivery of human organs to transplant centers, minimizing transport time and decreasing the number of unusable transplant organs.

“While we have come a long way in demonstrating the viability of this solution, there is still more that needs to be done,” Tukel says. “For one, legislation still does not permit the use of commercial drone delivery. Thus, while we continue to refine our vehicle, we must simultaneously advocate for this technology and the value it brings to patients and consumers.”

Tukel joined WSU as part of Medstart, an eight-year bachelor’s degree/medical degree program in collaboration with the Irvin D. Reid Honors College and school of medicine. He is the third generation in his family to attend WSU’s medical school after his grandfather and father.

“Matthew is a passionate resident of Detroit and has been extremely active at WSU and in the community. He received the Donnelly Award for most significant undergraduate contributions to Wayne State,” says Dr. Diane Levine, a professor and vice chair of education for the Department of Internal Medicine. “Matthew has always been an innovator. He is fascinated with drones and has channeled his energies to make a difference in the city.”

Tukel and friend Albert Jose helped found Detroit Aerial Innovations while taking undergraduate classes at WSU. They wanted to create a hands-on curriculum of unmanned aerial vehicles that covered what they’re made of, how to build them, and how to fly them.

The paper is available here. A video about the drone is available here.

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