In the Pipeline: Drone-Based Blood, Medicine Supply System

A start-up by three young men is hoping to revolutionise the way blood reaches the needy across the country. They have started demonstration flights of self-made drones before their project gets airborne by the end of next year to send blood and emergency medical supplies to villages where people have no immediate access to the facilities. Anshul Sharma (23), Arnab Bhattacharya (24), and Rishabh Gupta (25), aerospace graduates from MIT, Manipal, have launched their start-up, Bloodstream, to use their skills to overcome the logistical problems in delivering blood and other medical supplies to villages in Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and Nepal. “This will be the first drone-based blood and other emergency medical supplies service in Asia,” Bloodstream’s CEO Sharma, who hails from Nagpur, told. The trio will use drones that they have designed and manufactured themselves. “Our drones are called Magnum and have been awarded by NASA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Airbus, NTU, Singapore and MIT for third highest payload fraction – payload divided by drone weight – of 0.8 across the world,” said Sharma.

“The 1.3 m-long dual-motor drone with 2.2 m wing span can fly at 100-400 m at a speed of 80 km/hour and go as far as 105 km at one go in all type of weathers, including rain. So, it can reach a destination 100 km away in maximum 1.5 hours,” Sharma said. “It is more cost-effective than a two-wheeler or an ambulance. The cost will be 10 percent of that of a two-wheeler. It can be very effectively used during natural calamities as well,” he added. Most importantly, the drone-based service is likely to overcome the most basic logistical problems associated with the current system, according to Sharma. “Blood has a limited shelf life. The 24X7 power supply needed for cold storages is not available in rural areas. So, villagers have to rush to cities. Blood banks have limited supply otherwise there would be wastage or shortage. Our’s will be a hub-and-spoke system like America’s Zitline, which is already delivering medical supplies by drones in Africa since 2016. This will ensure huge savings and least wastage,” he said. The drones will also be used to deliver medicines and vaccines to rural areas, according to him.

Bloodstream is enthused by the recent allowance by the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) for use of drones for various purposes. It has tied up with Lifeline Blood bank, a nationwide chain of blood banks headquartered at Nagpur, for technical support. “We are providing them with technical help, like how to maintain cold chain, how to do packing, among other things. I think it is a much-awaited solution to the current logistical problems. Drones can seamlessly do the work. It would be faster and cheaper as you do not require manpower and you do not have to negotiate traffic and can reach remote areas. I am sure we will be able to save many lives by using drones,” said Harish Warbhe of Lifeline blood bank. Bloodstream is also in touch with the government health machinery for a tie-up. – Indian Express

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