Reply To: UAS Management – Case #3

  • DeletedUser

    May 21, 2021 at 10:43 am

    Case Study #3


    Blood delivery via unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the United States could present some great benefits and numerous opportunities. In rural areas where roads might not be the greatest, and hiring a helicopter would put the patient needing the blood in crippling debt for the rest of their life, a system of UAVs carrying blood could cut time and cost for a life-saving resource.

    The Zipline UAV demonstrated in Rwanda is also somewhat inexpensive to purchase and operate. In the Rwandan countryside, the Zipline team have found a niche market where their product really stands out when compared to the alternative of driving the blood on rough four wheel drive tracks. The Zipline system has already demonstrated its life-saving abilities in the real world.


    While a UAV could theoretically be made from the largest aircraft in the world, the vast majority of the time they are made with aircraft small enough for a single person to carry. This presents a weakness where UAVs might not have the desired payload capacity available, especially if the ground operations are meant to be lightweight and rapidly mobile. Blood has a narrow range of storage and transport conditions, and requires either insulation or refrigeration. Both of those systems can be bulky and can weigh down a UAV quickly.

    The requirements for ground operations are also a weakness for UAV blood delivery. The fixed-wing aircraft in Rwanda used as an example would not do very well delivering blood in a heavily treed area, as it needs a wide open field to execute a landing. Only in operations with a niche set of parameters would a blood delivery UAV be useful.


    Hospitals that are otherwise difficult to get to in a timely manner could also benefit from such a technology. For example, the OHSU campus in Portland, OR built an entire aerial tramway for the primary purpose of shortening the travel time for patients from the Waterfront district to the OHSU campus, and saving lives by doing so. Time is of the essence for certain blood deliveries, so a UAV carrying blood could slash delivery times because it would be able to simply fly over both city traffic and rough terrain.

    Blood delivery UAVs also present an opportunity to sway public opinion on UAVs in general. When people hear stories about UAVs doing humanitarian missions and saving lives, it changes the perception of the technology towards the positive end of the spectrum. If the average Joe only associates the word, “drone” with missile strikes and backyard spying, then regulations on the civil UAV industry will inevitably only become more restrictive.


    In the United States, the biggest threats to UAV blood delivery are automobiles and regulations. In most situations where blood is needed but not had onsite, a medical courier can deliver the needed blood in a standard road vehicle somewhat quickly over long distances using our extensive highway system. The niche market for a short-range blood delivery drone is far smaller in the United States than it is in Rwanda because of the existing road infrastructure.

    Another thread is regulation. Because the civil UAV industry is still in its infancy, the Federal Aviation Administration is being extremely cautious and learning lessons as challenges and problems come along. While the industry is moving towards drone deliveries for all sorts of items already, it would not take many dangerous incidents for the practice of delivering items to be halted until the technology improves enough to make it safer.