The U.S. Army tested drones and autonomous technology for the delivery of medical supplies on the battlefield last week in Fort Pickett, Virginia. In partnership with Near Earth Autonomy, a Pittsburgh-based drone research and development company, the Army conducted several test flights using Near Earth’s autonomous flight systems technology on an L3Harris FVR-90 hybrid unmanned aerial vehicle to see how drones could be used to send supplies back and forth over hundreds of miles. During these operations, the Near Earth sensors were able to find open areas for landing or, when landing was not possible, drop pods filled with medical supplies at a low altitude or via parachute from higher altitudes. In sum, all scenarios were tested to find the optimal method of delivery.

The goal of these test flights is to find a more efficient way to transport supplies to the Army’s operational units. The FVR-90 can carry up to 20 pounds, (including refrigerated pods of blood and other medical supplies), fly up to 16 hours, and travel approximately 50 miles. The goal is to reduce the amount of blood that is often wasted during such operations. Blood is viewed as a commodity in that unused blood usually cannot be returned to blood banks before it expires. With these drones and autonomous technology, medics could send return unused blood to the blood bank or send it on to another medic in a remote area who might need it.

The Army now seeks feedback from medics on this type of drone use and hopes to expand these types of operations to non-medical logistics as well.