Using drones to deliver goods is one of the technology's most tantalizing possibilities, and the more efficient transportation of blood products in particular is already gathering considerable steam. Looking to rule out the possibility of these samples spoiling en route, scientists have loaded drones up with blood bags and closely monitored their makeup before and after the journey, finding that the flight had no observable impact on the quality of the goods.

The new study actually builds on previous work carried out by researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Last year, the scientists set a bunch of blood samples in flight aboard a drone, looking to see if the acceleration upon take-off and vibration on rough landings might damage the products. Testing of the samples both before and after the flight produced virtually the same results, suggesting that drones offer a safe method for transporting the samples.

But where that study focused on the chemical, hematological and microbial makeup of smaller samples, the same team is now focusing on larger samples, big enough to be used for transfusions. These require more complex handling, storage and transport, so only a batch of real-world test flights would tell if drones were up to the task.

Across a number of test flights, the team loaded a total of 18 units into a 5-quart cooler and fixed it to the bottom of a S900 drone from DJI. The drone carried the blood samples, two or three at a time, across distances of 13 to 20 km (8 to 12.4 mi), taking as long as 26.5 minutes. Temperatures were kept stable through the use of wet ice, dry ice and thermal packs.

Following the flight, the team checked the samples in the lab for signs of damage, and gave them a clean bill of health. Their next steps involve conducting larger studies in the US and overseas, and working towards more advanced methods of cooling, such as programming a cooler to hold a certain temperature.

"My vision is that in the future, when a first responder arrives to the scene of an accident, he or she can test the victim's blood type right on the spot and send for a drone to bring the correct blood product," says Timothy Amukele, assistant professor of pathology at Johns Hopkins.

The research was published in the journal Transfusion.

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