Reports have come in that a remotely operated drone was able to make the 160 mile trek across the Arizona dessert, safely delivering chilled human blood in a safe and usable condition much more quickly than any other recorded delivery of this nature.
As The Verge explains, this test might begin a revolution for rural hospitals and medical facilities, allowing them access to supplies and biological materials that would otherwise not be possible to attain on short notice. The flight only took three hours to complete, beating out other transportation methods easily.
This test was conducted by Dr. Timothy Amukele, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, and volunteer Jeff Street. Using 21 samples from adult humans, Amukele flew half the samples in a Styrofoam cooler attached to the drone’s fuselage across the Arizona dessert for three hours. The other samples were driven by air conditioned car for the same length of time.
The blood samples were subjected to 19 tests, conclusively proving they were fine and fit for use on people after their flight. The only major difference between the samples were the levels of glucose and potassium, thought to be the result of the car’s samples actually being less safe than the drone’s, as the air conditioning was only able to keep the samples at around 79 degrees Fahrenheit, four degrees higher than the drone samples.
This is far from the first time drones have been used in a medical setting, though. California-based company Zipline has been delivering blood samples across the country of Rwanda for years and soon planning to expand to Tanzania. While all tests conducted so far prove the safety and effectiveness of Zipline’s work, it had yet to be attempted or approved in the United States.
While the scientists will need to run more tests to make a case for this transfer method, the future of rural medicine looks promising. The main concern at the moment is the possibility of drones crashing and endangering people on the ground with hazardous material. This is likely to be the biggest hurdle to overcome in the world of drone delivered-medical supplies, though Doctor Amukele and his team aren’t ready to give up any time soon.