• James P. Johnson

Lab-on-a-Drone: Toward Pinpoint Deployment of Smartphone-Enabled Nucleic Acid-Based Diagnostics...

Lab-on-a-Drone: Toward Pinpoint Deployment of Smartphone-Enabled Nucleic Acid-Based Diagnostics for Mobile Health Care


Aashish Priye, Season Wong, Yuanpeng Bi, Miguel Carpio, Jamison Chang, Mauricio Coen, Danielle Cope, Jacob Harris, James Johnson, Alexandra Keller, Richard Lim, Stanley Lu, Alex Millard, Adriano Pangelinan, Neal Patel, Luke Smith, Kamfai Chan, Victor M. Ugaz.


We introduce a portable biochemical analysis platform for rapid field deployment of nucleic acid-based diagnostics using consumer-class quadcopter drones. This approach exploits the ability to isothermally perform the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) with a single heater, enabling the system to be operated using standard 5 V USB sources that power mobile devices (via battery, solar, or hand crank action). Time-resolved fluorescence detection and quantification is achieved using a smartphone camera and integrated image analysis app. Standard sample preparation is enabled by leveraging the drone’s motors as centrifuges via 3D printed snap-on attachments. These advancements make it possible to build a complete DNA/RNA analysis system at a cost of ∼$50 ($US). Our instrument is rugged and versatile, enabling pinpoint deployment of sophisticated diagnostics to distributed field sites. This capability is demonstrated by successful in-flight replication ofStaphylococcus aureusand λ-phage DNA targets in under 20 min. The ability to perform rapid in-flight assays with smartphone connectivity eliminates delays between sample collection and analysis so that test results can be delivered in minutes, suggesting new possibilities for drone-based systems to function in broader and more sophisticated roles beyond cargo transport and imaging.

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