City looks to use drones for blood deliveries | News | Palo Alto Online |


City looks to use drones for blood deliveries

Palo Alto and Stanford Blood Center make a pitch to the Federal Aviation Administration

Blood-carrying drones may soon make their debut in Palo Alto skies under a program that city and Stanford University officials are hoping to launch in 2018.

The city has partnered with Stanford Blood Center and drone manufacturer Matternet on a proposal to the Federal Aviation Administration, which is planning to select five projects involving unmanned aircraft systems, commonly known as drones. The proposal calls for establishing an "approved flight path" west of Junipero Serra Boulevard that could be used by drones shuttling between the Stanford Blood Center, which is located at Stanford Research Park, and Stanford Hospital.

The City Council received a report about the application earlier this month (final applications are due by Jan. 4, according to a report from the Public Works Department). If the FAA approves the proposal and proceeds with a formal agreement, staff would return for council approval, according to the city's announcement. Palo Alto staff would then proceed with conducting the necessary environmental reviews and soliciting community feedback.

According to the letter of interest from Stanford Blood Center, the center aims to use drones in "very limited clinical settings where timely delivery of blood products of diagnostic specimens is of the utmost importance."

"Examples include emergent delivery of blood products from Stanford Blood Center when there are patients whose usage outpace the available in-house inventory at the hospital," the letter states. "More importantly, we are extremely aware and sensitive to the concerns of residents; every measure to eliminate intrusiveness and maximize safety will be taken."

The Public Works report argues that while the drone program can lead to "many positive benefits to the community," any operation would require the city and Stanford to address a list of issues before approval can be granted. These include safe drone operations, compatibility of drones with sensitive environmental habitats and impacts to residents, including noise and privacy.

Both Stanford and the city believe the collaboration, if successful, would further bolster the region's reputation for technological innovation. Public Works staff believe the program "could provide a worthwhile framework for engaging key stakeholders in a proactive and constructive manner and potentially influence national policy on conditions and requirements necessary for safe and community-sensitive UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) operations."

The Stanford proposal isn't the only drone operation that the city is considering. Multirotor, a German company that makes drones and which counts the Berlin Police Department and the German Army among its clients, has recently opened a Redwood City location to "unlock the US market and to win local partners for adapting our technology to the specific requirements of US customers," the company's CEO Marian Meier-Andrae wrote in a Dec. 5 letter to Palo Alto Assistant City Manager Ed Shikada.

Modern drone technology, Meier-Andrae wrote, has the potential to "make operations in the public services sector safer, more efficient and greener." They could be used, for example, to conduct inspections that have traditionally been carried out by humans at great heights, thus reducing the risk of injury or death. They can also replace manned systems such as helicopters and ground vehicles, resulting in lower noise and emission levels, as well as reduced costs, Meier-Andrae wrote.

In Palo Alto, Multirotor proposes to apply drone technology for airport operations and maintenance, which includes runway inspections, wildlife detection and perimeter surveillance. Other uses, according to the letter, include law enforcement (for example, to conduct accident-scene reconnaissance or crime scene reconstruction) and disaster relief (tasks may include damage appraisal and hot-spot detection).

The FAA plans to select the "lead applicants" in early 2018 and to enter into a memorandum of agreement with each by May 7, according to the agency's website.


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8 people like this
Posted by Amused
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 28, 2017 at 10:07 am

I can see this being a great source of punology.

Dracula drones beat Amazon!

13 people like this
Posted by Cgrisc
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 28, 2017 at 11:23 am

Great. Palo Alto just got noisier. The medical helicopter already shakes my apt.

15 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 28, 2017 at 12:11 pm

Three questions:

How much will these things weigh?

If one fails and hits someone below, how much damage will it do?

How much do the designers knows about system safety?

4 people like this
Posted by member
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Dec 28, 2017 at 12:30 pm

This is wonderful. Very efficient. Life saver. How can any one complain?

9 people like this
Posted by efs
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 28, 2017 at 3:59 pm

efs is a registered user.

As a regular blood donor, I have been informed that the Blood Center in the Research Park is closing this spring and services will move to Mountain View. ???

2 people like this
Posted by Joe Meyers
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 28, 2017 at 11:48 pm

Make sure the drones are well marked either on the drones or on the ground along the flight path so people know what they are and don't interfere with them. Good choice for a test program.

15 people like this
Posted by Louise68
a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 28, 2017 at 11:59 pm

On the surface, this sounds great, but their use here brings up a lot of questions:

1 Who will actually be operating these medical-supply drones?

2. What altitudes will these drones fly between?

3. How do the operators of these drones plan to deal with winds, birds, trees, and power lines?

4. Will these drones ever be grounded because of bad weather?

5. Will they ever fly at night?

6. If they are planned to fly at night, how will the operators be able to see well enough to easily avoid flying the drones into objects -- birds, trees, power lines, buildings, cars, etc.?

7. If they plan to use infrared systems to help the operators fly these drones at night, do these systems provide enough light so the operators can see well enough at night to easily avoid flying into object?

8. How do the operators plan to deal with birds?

9. What are their plans when they cannot see obstacles soon enough to avoid colliding with them?

10. How much noise -- in decibels -- will these drones make?

11. Will they ever need to fly low over residences at night?

12. Do these drones make enough noise to be heard as loud inside a residence, even wit the windows closed?

13. What temperature range can these drones fly in?

14. Will these drones have distinctive markings so that all who see them will know the these drones are on "mercy flights"?

15, Or will they need to be unmarked in order to avoid possible problems?

16. How reliable are the drones that will be used to deliver essential medical supplies?

17. Have there ever been instances when their systems did not behave as programmed,

18. If these drones malfunction, how often has that happened with the models that are going to be bought, and what did each malfunction cause the drone to do?

19. If these drones malfunction, what are the plans to deal with various malfunctions and minimize the harm to people and wildlife and property -- including power lines?

I know that that is a lot of questions, but, even though these drones will carry life-saving medical supplies, the may possibly cause a lot of problems. I hope not.

I thank anyone who can give me good, solid answers to each of these very important questions.

11 people like this
Posted by AllYouCanEat
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 29, 2017 at 9:55 am

Note to self:
-Buy a slingshot.

11 people like this
Posted by Tired of Cronyism
a resident of another community
on Jan 2, 2018 at 10:26 am

Commercial, cargo, general aviation, private jets, turboprops, helicopters, military aircraft, UAS, VTOLs...anything that flies, and preferably without a pilot (paid labor), is in massive expansion mode. Any angle that can be found to put a humanitarian spin on an ultimately insatiable-profits motivation is being leveraged. These private drone companies were doing their phase 1s in Africa, the perennial guinea pig, and of course it was about transporting medicine, saving lives. The BBC just had an article about expanding use of air ambulances at night and in the early morning hours with 24-hour schedules in the offing. Proponets says, so what about the noise and air pollution increases, it's all about saving lives, transporting blood needed urgently, etc. Anyone catch the hypocrisy; study after study shows noise pollution alone has devasting effects on human health but they're about improving health, the lives of people, saving lives? PLEASE. Oh, but if you're against what they're doing for the good of humanity, right, you're a bad person, you're against progress, blah, blah, blah. Thin edge of the wedge, and BS at that. The global aviation industry, its collaborators, dependents, investors, etc. don't give a rip about any living creature on the ground as evidenced by the FAA NextGen program mandated by Congress and ultimately supported by elected officials from the local to the federal level while paying weak lipservice to outraged constituents across our nation. Quality of life is systematically under assault in our country and throughout the world. When is it enough? And if I hear one more politician bang on about climate change while applauding unfettered expansion of this kind of pollution...

7 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 4, 2018 at 9:09 pm

Why do they need to do this?

Stanford bleed enough money out of their customers to pay for blood delivery
without having to impinge more and more on the people of surrounding communities.

12 people like this
Posted by Jetman
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 7, 2018 at 8:19 pm

First, I have to call out Mr.Sheyner who must know, but fails to name the snakes in the city's bureaucratic woodpile championing this duplicitous cooperation between the city, the FAA, and the aviation industry.

There should be no (zero!) cooperation between the City of Palo Alto and the FAA, or any part of the aviation industry, until the FAA begins cooperating in good faith to reverse the FAA's "nextgen" plan to use Palo Alto as a toxic waste dump for the hazardous byproducts generated by a City of San Francisco owned and operated industrial facility also known as SFO.

4 people like this
Posted by Joshua
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Mar 26, 2018 at 2:14 pm

Hi there, I am a Producer for CBS National News. We are putting together a piece looking at the new drone program and would love to speak to a resident of the Palo Alto area that has strong opinions or questions about the program. We would like to interview them in a short interview on Tuesday for a piece that will air on our network. Please contact me at if you are interested. Thank you!

Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2018 at 3:49 pm

Posted by Joshua, a resident of Palo Alto Hills

>> Hi there, I am a Producer for CBS National News. We are putting together a piece looking at the new drone program and would love to speak to a resident of the Palo Alto area that has strong opinions or questions about the program.

Hi Joshua. "Thanks for asking." ;-) There are a lot of questions about -safety- regarding this nascent industry. Aviation flight control systems are subject to significant development standards. Without a functioning control system (hardware and software), a drone is going to become a several-pound rock that can land on someone's head. What I would like to know is how much the developers of these systems know about "system software safety".

Web Link

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Joshua
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Mar 26, 2018 at 4:59 pm

Hi Anon,

Thank is a great point! Can you email me to discuss further?

Appreciate the help!


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