First successful case of transporting biological samples by drone in the Olot pilot test

A pilot test of the first drone transport of biological samples with blood analysis was conducted this week in Olot. This initiative promoted by the Olot and Garrotxa District Hospital Foundation (FHOCG) and the tech company Aldoratech opens up a new horizon for transport in the field of health.    

The pilot test took place on Wednesday, 3 May, at 10.30am with twenty volunteers who donated 10 ml of blood to be used as samples in this project. The blood was divided into 40 samples and transported in groups of 20 in two trips to the Clinical Laboratory at Olot and Garrotxa District Hospital. The reasons for taking blood from volunteers was to make the simulation as realistic as possible. It could then be compared with the means of transport currently used and ensure compliance with the regulations that require the temperature to be maintained for up to 3 hours. The test was scheduled to take place on Thursday, 4 May, but due to a windy weather forecast, it had to be moved forward 24 hours.

The drone travelled 1.7km, the distance between Olot Primary Care Centre and the Clinical Laboratory. It completed this in 4 minutes as opposed to the usual 7. Therefore, transport by air made it possible to reduce sample transport time by 43%. The drone selected for this first journey can carry a maximum weight of 10 kg at a flight height of 100 m and an average speed of 9 m/s.

Approval was given to use the airspace to conduct the pilot test in accordance with the public procedures in the area of operations. The new European drone regulations are less strict in the countryside.

Once the samples arrived at the foundation’s clinical laboratory, the transport conditions were analysed with a data recording device (temperature, length of journey and degree of agitation). The haemolysis index (measurement of free haemoglobin) was also analysed to provide objective and valuable indicators of transport quality. According to the monitoring, all three aspects of the transport were correct. No sample was observed as having a high enough haemolysis index to affect the measurement of any of the parameters analysed in the lab.

Another aspect that has been assessed concerning transport in an unmanned aircraft is the environmental impact. In terms of speed, it has been proven to reduce transport time, from 7 to 4 minutes, and CO2 emissions are reduced by 80.4%.

This first flight of an aircraft to transport biological samples was made possible by the collaboration of various institutions: Olot Primary Care Centre (Catalan Health Institute – ICS), Aldoratech (a tech company) and Cellnex (a telecommunications infrastructure operator).

The first conference of this kind

The pilot test came within the context of a conference to test the usability of drones to transport biological samples. This involved eighty people from all around Catalonia in the field of health and emergencies or who were interested in this new technology.  

The first part consisted of a roundtable titled “Drones: health care disruption” with the participation of Núria Abdón, the person responsible for the non-face-to-face care model at the TIC Salut Social Foundation); Paula Gassiot, a clinical laboratory assistant at the Olot and Garrotxa District Hospital Foundation; Toni Gilabert, the manager of the Innovation and Partnership Area at the Health and Social Consortium of Catalonia; Ferran Lumbierres, the head of engineering at Aldoratech; and Àngels Ucero, the manager of Sustainability at Cellnex Telecom and the Cellnex Foundation. The roundtable was moderated by Maria Emilia Gil, the technical manager of the Unió Foundation.

Those attending the conference were able to see a video of the take-off, flight and the landing of the aircraft outside the hospital. A short live demonstration was also given.

Three major areas were discussed at the conference: the technical aspects of drones, the impacts of technology on security and the impact of climate change, and the applications of these unmanned aircraft. The use case of Olot and possible future collaborations that may arise in the Catalan health system were used as examples. The participants also reflected on what the adoption of this technology and the new paradigm of smart drones could mean for the future.

Bringing drones into the field of health

In the field of health, the use of drones is at its very beginnings. However initiatives and pilot tests are emerging to improve the accessibility and efficiency of medical care. For example, they make it easier to transport laboratory samples for analysis, as in the case of this pilot, to deliver medical supplies and medicines, or to provide support for emergency medical services.

A working group has recently been set up to identify the requirements for implementing solutions that make use of drones in the health field, describe possible use cases, and create specific projects that provide a benefit to citizens and the health system. The Olot and Garrotxa District Hospital Foundation is part of the working group, which is also includes the TIC Salut Social Foundation, representatives of the Departmental Committee for Innovation and Transformation of the Health System at the Department of Health, the Health and Social Consortium of Catalonia, the Catalan Union of Hospitals, organisations in the Catalan Health System (SISCAT) and tech companies.

Source: Olot Hospital

  • Press release

  • The time taken, the sustainability of the journey and the quality of the sample are the main evaluation indices that were taken into account in the pilot test.