Drone sets new distance record for delivery of medical supplies

From military strikes to aerial photography, there are a lot of applications for drone technology. But the one that gets a lot of humanitarian groups interested is delivery of medical supplies over terrain that would normally be difficult to traverse.

“Drones can operate where there are no roads, and overcome conditions that disable wheeled vehicles, traffic and other logistical inefficiencies that are the enemy of improved, timely patient diagnoses and care,” said Timothy Amukele, assistant professor of pathology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. 

“Drones are likely to be the 21st century’s best medical sample delivery system.” 

Amukele and his team have broken a distance record for the transport of medical supplies by drone, transporting human blood samples 161 miles across the Arizona desert. The flight took three hours.

Precise temperature

To ensure that the samples would still be viable after landing, they were maintained at a precise temperature by a controlled chamber designed specially by the team. For comparison purposes, an identical sample was maintained in a car at the airfield.

Due to the regulations surrounding drone flight in the United States, the test had to be carried out away from populated areas at a military test range that had been completely cleared of other air traffic. It was guided the whole way by a remote pilot using a radio link.

It's hoped that the system used can be developed into one that's ready for full-time use in the real world. "We expect that in many cases, drone transport will be the quickest, safest and most efficient option to deliver some biological samples to a laboratory from rural or urban settings," said Amukele.

"Getting diagnostic results far more quickly under difficult conditions will almost certainly improve care and save more lives."

Duncan Geere
Duncan Geere is TechRadar's science writer. Every day he finds the most interesting science news and explains why you should care. You can read more of his stories here, and you can find him on Twitter under the handle @duncangeere.