Autonomous navigation specialist Near Earth and aerospace and defense tech company L3Harris say they successfully conducted simulated UAV deliveries of critical medical supplies, including whole blood, to soldiers in far-off battle situations under a US Army program.
The partners say the test flights confirm the viability of their offer permitting armed forces officials to quickly dispatch urgent material hundreds of miles for use by medics tending to wounded troops in the field. Their demonstration used Near Earth’s end-to-end automated navigation platform to fly an L3Harris FVR-90 Airframe UAV, and make delivery of its medical supplies payload to remote locations under differing retrieval scenarios.
The project relied on the L3Harris FVR-90 Airframe’s hybrid vertical takeoff and landing UAV, which can carry up to 22 lbs. of cargo in its nose compartment. The autonomous navigation platform controlled the flight from lift-off to the mission’s final touchdown, and successfully oversaw two contrasting delivery situations.
In the first, onboard sensors were used to analyze and select unobstructed spots for safe landing and departure. In tests where terrain was determined by the tech to be inhospitable to landing, the UAV made delivery drops of the medical supplies in protected transport pods from low hovering altitudes, or from higher up using parachutes.
The trials were sponsored by the US Army’s Medical Research and Development Command’s Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC), as part of its ongoing exploration of ways to care for the injuries and save lives of wounded soldiers in battle situations. A frequent treatment in that is whole blood transfusions, which help avert hemorrhagic shock during tactical combat medical intervention.
Getting supplies of whole blood rapidly to those frequently far-off locations can be difficult – when not impossible – which made the Near Earth-L3Harris proposal of using automated UAVs to speed those medical deliveries where they’re needed an appealing solution.
“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.”
The test flights not only opened the possibility of using those autonomous long-distance UAV flights to deliver medical supplies to the far-flung battle zones, but also the prospect of recovering precious products like whole blood that don’t wind up being used.
“This achievement leveraged L3Harris and Near Earth’s broad UAS expertise to address the exact type of advanced missions that our Warfighters need,” said Dave Duggan, president of Precision Engagement Systems for L3Harris. “When combined with autonomous delivery zone evaluation, vertical takeoff and landing and long-distance flight can transform field supply logistics.”
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