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New autonomous technology could be a big step forward for battlefield first aid, where every minute counts. US Army leaders are trying to bolster battlefield first aid by delivering life-saving blood to medics in the field via unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). 

Delivering blood via drone presents key advantages because it would ramp up the amount of resources those medics have available without putting human pilots at risk, should the troops in the field be isolated by hostile fire or poor weather conditions.

In August, a team of Army researchers worked with tech companies Near Earth Autonomy and L3Harris Technologies to demonstrate an unmanned aircraft delivering whole blood to a landing zone in Fort Pickett, Virginia. The drone demonstrated its ability to fly over the landing zone, scan the terrain for a suitable place to touch down and then come to a smooth stop in the field. If the landing zone was too cluttered to land, the drone just dropped the delivery off from a low-altitude hover, or released transport pods via parachute, according to taskandpurpose.com.

In the August exercise, the team used an FVR-90 drone, which can take off and land vertically like a helicopter, fly 12 to 18 hours and carry up to 22 pounds of payload in its nose. The L3Harris product also carries a suite of sensors.

In 2020, an Air Force C-145A dropped a cooler full of blood over Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, as part of a study designed “to determine if fresh blood could withstand an airdrop to combat medics in austere environments,” according to the 96th Test Wing. The blood landed “safely,” and the Eglin lab team concluded that “there was no breakdown or disintegration in the red blood cells of the airdropped blood samples,” according to the release.