We have completed maintenance on DiscoverMagazine.com and action may be required on your account. Learn More

Unmanned Spy Planes Become Medical Messengers

By Andrew Moseman
Sep 13, 2008 12:18 AMNov 5, 2019 8:45 AM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

The domain of unmanned spy planes is expanding beyond war zones—last month the British government announced plans to use these flying robots to help out police at home. But here's a more feel-good use for unmanned drones: Researchers at the South African National Health Laboratory Service want to use these robots in the service of medicine, converting them in electronic carrier pigeons to move supplies. South Africa has many remote areas that are difficult to reach, especially when the weather turns bad. So scientists want to send in the robots. The researchers had South African entrepreneur Jaco Davel create a smaller and cheaper unmanned aerial vehicle that could be launched by hand; these unmanned craft could be preprogrammed for landing, or hospitals could control them manually. While these small planes can't carry patients, they can take a patient's samples from a clinic in the rural areas to a larger hospital for testing, allowing the doctors to then advise the local clinic what to do. The modified spy planes have only been test-flown at this point, but the idea is intriguing, and a promising fit for an idea previously used just for espionage. But what if the plane crashes? Don't fear the biohazard, study leader Barry Mendelow says—the samples are all sterilized before takeoff.

Image: flickr/James Gordon

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.