Near Earth Autonomy and L3Harris Technologies have announced a successful demonstration of an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) that can autonomously deliver life-saving blood and other medical supplies hundreds of miles away from operational bases to medics in the field.
The U.S. Army’s Medical Research and Development Command’s (USAMRDC) Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC) sponsored the demonstration to identify ways to save soldiers’ lives in situations where access to whole blood in the field can be challenging. The companies said whole blood is the ideal fluid for hemorrhagic shock treatment in tactical combat care. The project also aimed to address the problem of whole blood going unused and wasted by recovering it to blood banks in reusable conditions.
Near Earth said it successfully integrated its autonomous flight systems and L3Harris’ FVR-90 hybrid VTOL aircraft to demonstrate multiple delivery scenarios. In one example, the UAS analyzed landing areas using onboard sensors to find a safe, unobstructed location. In other tests, the ground was too cluttered for the vehicle to land, so transport pods were dropped from a low altitude hover or released via parachute. The demonstrations took place in Fort Picket, Va., in August 2021.
“Near Earth and L3Harris have developed a compelling technical solution to a challenging problem statement derived from current needs and future operating concepts,” said Nathan Fisher, chief of the medical robotic and autonomous systems division at TATRC. “Together, they have smartly integrated their aircraft autonomy and blood storage system with a capable UAS, demonstrating the ability to support field care, when immediate patient evacuation is not possible, through long-range delivery and recovery of critical supplies without requiring any forward infrastructure.”
Near Earth’s technology allows aircraft to autonomously take off, fly, and land safely, with or without GPS. The solutions enable aerial mobility and inspection applications for partners in the commercial and defense sectors.
“This project allowed us to demonstrate the utility of autonomous, safe landing in complex, unstructured environments,” said Sanjiv Singh, CEO of Near Earth Autonomy. “It is especially gratifying to speak to end users who can benefit from the life-saving applications that are now possible through this innovative program.”