• Blood could soon be delivered by drone in South Africa.  
  • The TRON UAV could save many lives, flying at speeds of up to 160km/hour. 
  • The drone can carry 4 units of blood.
  • Before operation, it still needs to pass aviation licences.  

The South African National Blood Service (SANBS), in conjunction with the Western Cape Blood Service (WCBS), have hatched a plan to deliver emergency blood to hospitals by drone.

Yesterday, a TRON Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) took off from the North Eastern Radio Flyers in Sandton, and landed safely, with fake blood, a few minutes later. In the not so distant future South Africa could see similar flights, this time with real blood, from banks to hospitals. The drones could reach remote areas of South Africa in emergencies. 

Chante Schatz
The TRON UAV takes flight in Sandton. Photo Chante Schatz, Video24

According to the SANBS, the UAV will be a South African first and potentially save many lives.

“We believe that this is an innovative step in the history of blood transfusions. SANBS is determined to improve rapid access to life-saving blood products in rural areas through the use of drone technology,” said Dr Jonathan Louw, CEO of the SANBS.

“Our concept is globally unique in that we will provide two-way logistics; patients can receive emergency “O negative” blood from one of our blood banks via drone. The same drone can then take that patient’s blood sample to the blood bank for comprehensive cross-matching and then safely and rapidly deliver compatible blood back to the patient.” 

SANBS believe this could be the game changer they are looking for when it comes to delivering emergency blood to hospitals as far away as 100km away from blood banks. The UAV will fly at an altitude of 100 metres in the air without having to navigate traffic. 

TRON can carry a payload of up 2kg, the equivalent of 4 units of blood. Photo supplied.

The drone will be able to carry the equivalent of 4 units of blood.

SANBS supplies over one million blood products annually to 8 of our 9 provinces, with the exception of The Western Cape which is serviced by the WCBS. 

It will be a while before a UAV like this will be licensed to fly in South African airspace.

Business Insider confirmed with the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA), the regulatory body responsible for licensing UAVs or drones, that SANBS will still need to register for the necessary operating certificates before being able to operate in SA airspace.

“SANBS has approached the SACAA to enquire about how they could get their envisaged operations to comply with the applicable RPAS regulations. That process is still at an infancy phase,” said the CAA.

The CAA also noted that a UAV like this must also adhere to aviation laws surrounding the transportation of blood, classified as dangerous goods. 

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