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Drones used to transport donated blood

THE SANBS is currently conducting test flights with drones as part of their Project BloodWing aimed at bringing blood to people in difficult to reach areas.

Lead consultant for translational research at SANBS, Dr Karin van den Berg, said the drones will greatly help in giving under-serviced communities in the deep rural areas of South Africa access to blood. It will also be helpful in urban areas to transport blood from one hospital to the other without traffic delays.

“Many people in rural areas have died because they did not have access to blood donations when it was needed. We want to supply blood to communities that are far from hospitals and other health care facilities.”

The drone can carry up to 2kg of blood in a refrigerated compartment and travel at a maximum speed of 100km/h with a range of 180km.

It lifts off vertically like a helicopter and after lift off its propellers change direction to enable it to fly straight like an aeroplane. When it is ready to land, the propellers change again so that it lands similarly to a helicopter (see video posted on PE Express facebook page).

Since the drone is able to land (as opposed to just dropping the package), blood samples can then be placed in the drone and taken back to the hospital for testing.

Van den Berg said the cost of the drone is surprisingly inexpensive at around R13 000 each. The fact that it can be flown in poor weather conditions is also a big advantage.

Since the launch of Project BloodWing the SANBS team has been hard at work with many exciting initiatives. These include extensive testing, presentations and demos.

According to Van den Berg, they are now in the process of getting Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) permission to fly the drone. The SANBS is currently conducting a series of flight tests in order to get this permission.

Following these tests, the SANBS will obtain an experimental licence from the CAA, which will allow the organisation to operate the drones until data and validation can show that the drones are safe and are a viable solution.

In addition, the SANBS drones will also be certified by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA). This is a mandatory process for any device utilising a radio frequency in South Africa.

The SANBS is in the process of purchasing flight simulators for staff to test their skills as drone pilots. One of the drone pilots that is currently part of the team, is an SANBS employee, Lebohang Lebogo, who received her Beyond Visual Line Of Sight (BVLOS) certification. She had dreams of becoming a pilot, but due to lack of funding could not afford the training.

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