Blood supply in the sky, thanks to drones

Date:26 June 2019 Author: Sam Spiller Tags:, , , , , , , , , , ,

The use of drones could prove to be the most effective way to deliver blood to those in need, especially those in rural areas.

Drones are perhaps one of the most malleable technical devices out there. From traffic and weather reporting to firefighting and photography, these arial vehicles appear to do it all. An exciting addition to this long list of capabilities, thanks to the efforts of the South African National Blood Service (SANBS), is the ability to deliver blood to patients in need.

The blood service’s newest team member, the “Tron UAV”, is specially designed to travel long distances. Using little power, the winged-blood-delivery device is able to cover a range of over 100km. Traffic wont be an issue to consider either. The drone travels between 60 and 180km per hour and flies at an altitude that avoids vehicle traffic below and air traffic above.

One of the best advantages offered up by the Tron UAV is that now, rapid access to life-saving medical products can extend beyond the hospital into rural areas. Delivery and location benefits aside, those in need can have blood delivered at an affordable rate: CEO of SANBS, Dr Jonathan Louw, believes that this is an innovative step in the history of blood transfusion, not only in South Africa, but the entire world.

How does it all work? The drone, that can carry at least four units of blood, is controlled by a pilot on the ground. The eyes of the operation – an HD-quality video that is relayed to the control center during the flight to ensure all is on track. A smooth landing means that the transport medium and it’s life-saving goods arrive undamaged and ready for use.

O negative blood (the most common and versatile blood type) will always arrive on delivery. The drone has the ability to bring blood samples from patients back to the blood center for cross-matching, ensuring that compatible blood makes it back to a person in need if necessary.

The Tron drone itself would need to be durable. Withstanding G-force temperatures and keeping the integrity of the blood in check is a primary priority. Overall, the process is quick and efficient, allowing the SANBS to extend far beyond their current capacities. As an added bonus, the drone is kinder to the environment and is much more affordable than the current helicopter system in place.

Though further tests need to be run, and necessary licensing with the South African Civil Aviation Authority addressed, drone delivery service is a reality. After a six-month process, SANBS partnered with Quantum Systems to ensure the success and reality of the initiative. Blood supply in the sky, thanks to drones, could prove to be the most effective way to deliver blood to those in need, especially those in rural areas.

Pictures: South African National Blood Service

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