(FIERCE BIOTECH) – A subsidiary of United Therapeutics ($UTHR) has placed an order for up to 1,000 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from Chinese manufacturer EHang. The plan is to use the UAVs, flying vehicles more commonly known as drones, to ship manufactured lungs and other organs from production facilities to hospitals for transplantation.
Many stumbling blocks stand between the United Therapeutics subsidiary, Lung Biotechnology PBC, and the realization of this vision, but the company has seen enough potential to justify committing time and resources to the idea. Lung Biotechnology plans to spend 15 years working to turn the idea into reality with EHang, a Chinese drone developer that unveiled a prototype of an autonomous helicopter in January. The partners plan to rework that prototype, which was designed to carry one passenger, to ferry organs between locations without the active control of a human.
Lung Biotechnology thinks the drone is a good fit for its vision of the future of organ transplantation. “The well-known locations of transplant hospitals and future organ manufacturing facilities makes the EHang technology ideal for Highway-In-The-Sky and Low-Level IFR Route programs,” CEO Martine Rothblatt said in a statement. “We anticipate delivering hundreds of organs a day, which means that the [Manufactured Organ Transport Helicopter] system will help save not only tens of thousands of lives, but also many millions of gallons of aviation transport gasoline annually.”
The partners will have to overcome a diverse range of technical and regulatory challenges if they are to implement a system that even vaguely resembles Rothblatt’s vision. One set of challenges relates to the drone technology. In January, EHang said the personal pilotless helicopter had completed a flight in China, but the video footage presented to date has relied heavily on computer renderings. As it stands, the manned version of the drone is designed to fly for up to 10 miles. EHang is aiming to have a version of the personal transport vehicle available for sale later this year
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