Drones to the rescue: Berlin lab seeks quicker coronavirus tests

Officials expect to cut standard delivery times by 50 minutes

Full Screen
1 / 3

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Drone and logistic operator Peter Trempeck monitores the automatic landing of a drone with a case for medical stuff during a presentation for media, near the Labor Berlin laboratory in Berlin, Germany, Monday, Nov. 23, 2020. Each drone can carry about 40 test samples, not only for Corona tests, that need to be examined in a laboratory. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

BERLIN – A German lab is hoping to cut the time it takes to send coronavirus tests across Berlin by using drones, thereby avoiding the capital’s clogged roads.

California-based company Matternet is currently testing drone deliveries between a hospital and Labor Berlin, one of the largest laboratories in Europe.

The route from drone to lab is about 7 miles as the drone flies, and officials expect to cut standard delivery times from about an hour to around 10 minutes when service on the route begins in January.

Eventually, the hope is that drones will provide regular deliveries to the lab from six points around Berlin, shaving vital minutes off the turnaround time for COVID tests.

“The whole topic of ‘time to the result’ is really important, especially when there is the suspicion of an infection,” said Klaus Tenning, who is leading the project for Labor Berlin. “You want to identify the person and get the result as soon as possible so that the person can self-isolate or be able to just continue with normal daily life.”

Each route will be served by two drones that can theoretically fly 24 hours a day. The batteries in the drone simply get switched when they are running low, eliminating charging time.

Each drone can carry about 40 samples. It won’t just be COVID tests that are transported, but any samples that need to be examined in a lab.

“We said from the start that this would be a working project,” said Tenning.