Drones to deliver blood in Tanzania by 2018

Tanzania will use drones for on-demand delivery of blood, vaccines, medications and other supplies such as sutures and IV tubes, from next year. The introduction of new and efficient ‘blood drones’ in Tanzania looks set to change the dynamic of blood transportation in the country.

Last year, the American company, Zipline deployed 15 drones serving 21 clinics from a single base in neighbouring country, Rwanda. The success of this project sparked the Tanzanian government’s interest and a delivery operation for Tanzania was immediately planned. It would be the world’s largest — 120 drones at four bases serving more than 10 million people at 1000 clinics across the country.

Imagine a situation where doctors require blood for a patient within minutes instead of a few hours, the situation can become serious in an instant. With the imminent introduction of the “blood drones” in Tanzania, that is a thing of the past.

While the concept may sound like something straight out of a video game, the drone, known as “The Verge”, can transport blood to a main hospital in less than 30 minutes instead of having to make a journey that can last almost four hours.

According to the company CEO, Keller Rinaudo, the objective of launching the drone in Tanzania next year is to help millions of Tanzanians in need of blood in the quickest way possible.

The entire process is as simple as it sounds. There are a total of seven distribution centres where blood and medical supplies are stored. When an order is made, the blood is placed in a shoebox-like container and flown directly to the clinic. Once there, the box is dropped by parachute, collected by medical personnel and the drone makes its way back to the distribution centre awaiting its next delivery.

The drone can carry a total of 1.5kg, which equates to around three bags of blood with a top flying speed of about 70km/h. It can also travel a total distance of 150km before the battery eventually has to be recharged again.

More than 2600 units of blood have so far been delivered in Rwanda alone, with a quarter of that figure allocated to emergency services. The ultimate goal is to extend the Zipline project to other countries, opening more bases and incorporating vaccine deliveries in unison with the already successful blood service.