Can Unmanned Aerial Systems (Drones) Be Used for the Routine Transport of Chemistry, Hematology, and Coagulation Laboratory Specimens?

PLoS One. 2015 Jul 29;10(7):e0134020. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0134020. eCollection 2015.


Background: Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS or drones) could potentially be used for the routine transport of small goods such as diagnostic clinical laboratory specimens. To the best of our knowledge, there is no published study of the impact of UAS transportation on laboratory tests.

Methods: Three paired samples were obtained from each one of 56 adult volunteers in a single phlebotomy event (336 samples total): two tubes each for chemistry, hematology, and coagulation testing respectively. 168 samples were driven to the flight field and held stationary. The other 168 samples were flown in the UAS for a range of times, from 6 to 38 minutes. After the flight, 33 of the most common chemistry, hematology, and coagulation tests were performed. Statistical methods as well as performance criteria from four distinct clinical, academic, and regulatory bodies were used to evaluate the results.

Results: Results from flown and stationary sample pairs were similar for all 33 analytes. Bias and intercepts were <10% and <13% respectively for all analytes. Bland-Altman comparisons showed a mean difference of 3.2% for Glucose and <1% for other analytes. Only bicarbonate did not meet the strictest (Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia Quality Assurance Program) performance criteria. This was due to poor precision rather than bias. There were no systematic differences between laboratory-derived (analytic) CV's and the CV's of our flown versus terrestrial sample pairs however CV's from the sample pairs tended to be slightly higher than analytic CV's. The overall concordance, based on clinical stratification (normal versus abnormal), was 97%. Length of flight had no impact on the results.

Conclusions: Transportation of laboratory specimens via small UASs does not affect the accuracy of routine chemistry, hematology, and coagulation tests results from selfsame samples. However it results in slightly poorer precision for some analytes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aircraft / instrumentation*
  • Blood Coagulation Tests*
  • Clinical Chemistry Tests*
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Hematologic Tests*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Phlebotomy
  • Specimen Handling / instrumentation*
  • Time Factors

Grant support

The author(s) received no specific funding for this work. Vayu, Incorporated provided support in the form of salaries for one author [DP], but did not have any additional role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The specific roles of these authors are articulated in the ‘author contributions’ section. This author’s affiliation with Vayu Incorporated, as well as the amended statements of Competing Interests and Financial disclosure does not alter the authors' adherence to all PLOS ONE policies on sharing data and materials.