Medical-application development for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) is absolutely vibrating with life these days. Right now, Mayo Clinic is exploring the use of drones to transport blood products to victims. And fascinating work is underway among scientists in the Middle East who are creating life-saving drones fitted with automated refrigeration compartments to transport donated organs. A graduate student in the Netherlands recently pioneered drone technology that houses a mobile defibrillator and could increase a person’s chance of survival following cardiac arrest by over 70 percent. Drone technology promises to revolutionize the medical world in the coming years.

But, as with any new technological development, there will be challenges. One of the greatest is in an area that might seem trivial at first glance—the transport case. Addressing this challenge will have a lot to do with changing the way we’ve tended to perceive engineered, customized casing. That is, we all know that a medical device should have a place to live when it’s not in use, and most would agree a custom case is the ideal (though not totally necessary) way to house a device. But, as medical drone technology tumbles its way from infancy into toddlerhood, a new picture is forming. The significance of the case itself, and two related and unforeseen considerations for case design and fabrication, are beginning to emerge.

1. The Profound Potential for, and Implications of, Product Failure
Take the defibrillator drone, for example. The life-saving potential of this technology is extraordinary. Establishing networks of these fast-moving, nimble drones could profoundly reduce the number of deaths from cardiac arrest because the drones directly tackle the greatest barrier to successful rescue efforts—wasted time.

But what does this have to do with drone cases? A lot, when you consider the time factor. Life-saving medical UAVs are fragile and complex, and they’re always out in the field by virtue of their purpose. These devices are constantly exposed to sand and salt, rain and sun, freezing temperatures and extreme heat—and they’re moved around a lot. Protecting them from damage that might cause delays is essential. This is because a well-protected drone is a drone that is in working order when the need for it arises. Along the chain of life-saving efforts, any delay or slip up could mean the difference between life and death. When viewed from that perspective, the incredible significance of the case becomes obvious.

2. The Great Speed of Increasing Demand
Awareness of the supreme usefulness of drone technology has hit hyper speed over the last couple of years. And, this year, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is set to ease restrictions on UAVs in our nation’s airspace. These factors have spurred a rapid increase in demand for life-saving drones. The high risk and severe consequences of product failure combined with this rapidly growing demand means oversights in development are dangerous and likely.

More specifically, the industry is so laser focused on developing the technology itself, the packaging has become an afterthought— when it really is (or should be) a component intrinsically bound to the device. It's not unusual to find this tech housed and transported in corrugated cardboard boxes filled with packing peanuts or layered with egg-crate foam. This is not a great idea for any expensive, intricate technology. When it comes to medical drones, it’s downright unwise. Improper, disorganized housing actually puts victims and patients at risk. For example, if a first responder can't find a needed attachment, or equipment has sustained unexpected damage during transport to the deployment area, the subsequent delay could mean the loss of life or limb.

3. ‘Cool Features’ Have Become ‘Necessary Components’
For the medical device case manufacturer, all of this culminates in a set of four features that must be standard and customizable in the design and engineering of any medical UAV case.

  • Visual Inventory. This is arguably the most critical feature. Refer back to the example of the first responder who has to waste time sifting through packing peanuts to find a vital attachment. A case needs to be designed so that as soon as the end-user pops it open, he or she can take a rapid visual inventory of everything, and then get busy saving lives.
  • Internal Integrity and Fit. Egg-crate foam doesn’t cut it for this tech. Specialized foams that are custom-cut for hand-in-glove fit are imperative for ideal functioning. Each component’s place must offer a synergetic fit that accomplishes a perfect balance, enabling super-smooth in-and-out while giving each component a super-secure cradle that protects it from shock and vibration.
  • Environmental Protection. Medical drones are exposed to extreme environments into which no sensible person would ever bring such intricate and fragile technology. Cases have to be water tight, able to withstand extreme temperatures, and able to keep out a myriad of hazardous elements, like sand, salt, and the acid rain often present in disaster zones.

With significant innovations in life-saving drone technology on the near horizon, it’s imperative we begin to “think outside the box,” incorporating custom casing in the overall design scheme to maximize the incredible potential of these devices.