First (official) medical delivery by drone in China

For a country that is so dominant in drone technology – to the point that DJI alone accounts for almost three quarters of the drone market – it is surprising that China has reported its first delivery of blood by drone.

Better late than never, we suppose.

Reports from China Daily have it that Shenzhen, China’s tech hub in Guangdong province, has unveiled the country’s first drone-based operation for blood transportation to facilitate the delivery of blood samples around the city.

Spearheaded by the Shenzhen Blood Centre in collaboration with the support of China Telecom’s Shenzhen branch, the development marks the first significant step towards ensuring swift and efficient delivery of lifesaving supplies.

This past Friday, the first drone ever to commercially carry medical samples in China took on a flight mission from the Shenzhen Blood Centre to the Shenzhen Traditional Chinese Medicine Hospital.

The maiden flight was also a chance to showcase the integration of 5G technology and artificial intelligence, and usher in a new era in blood transportation logistics.

The “5G Intelligent Air Harbour”, a collaboration that seamlessly blends high-speed 5G connectivity and the capabilities of unmanned aerial vehicles, was in operation on a commercial basis for the first time when the drone took off from the centre.

It will not only ensures the real-time monitoring of blood transportation, but also enhances the safety of the cold chain, which is crucial for preserving the integrity of blood and its derivatives.

The system was at work inside the Shenzhen Blood Centre, where bags of blood accompanied by monitoring devices were meticulously placed into the blood transportation incubator.

The platform’s intelligent closed-loop control system would oversee the entire transportation process, from dispatch and route management to emergency response coordination and hospital reception.

“Three routes have been opened between the city’s blood centre and the Shenzhen Traditional Chinese Medicine Hospital, the Luohu District People’s Hospital and the Eighth Affiliated Hospital of Sun Yat-sen University,” said head of the Shenzhen Blood Centre, Ning Li.

“Four additional routes are planned, and more medical institutions will be covered in the future.

“The impact is tangible. For example, the transportation time from the Shenzhen Blood Centre to the Luohu District People’s Hospital has been reduced from 60 minutes to an astonishing nine minutes.”

Which is well and good for this particular operation.

But to be strictly honest though, there were previous tests carried out by researchers at Zhejiang University’s School of Medicine; who wrote that – using a multi-copter drones – they carried out trials on the delivery of blood samples in Hangzhou province in eastern China for nine months beginning in March 2021.

“We found that blood products delivered by drones reduced delivery time by 50 percent,” the researchers – Qiang Li, Jing Xia, Fangmin Ge, Qin Lu and Mao Zhang wrote in their article, published in the Lancet Global Health Journal.

“But some drone deliveries took ten percent longer than those made by car.

“There might be multiple reasons for this finding. First, commercially available rotor-wing drones have a maximum range of less than 20km, requiring battery replacement at relay points. The time advantage weakens as the number of relays increases for a longer flight distance.

“If the drone is to fly over a river, additional battery replacement before or after the crossing is to be expected to anticipate slower speed and increased power consumption in stronger headwinds.

“Second, various factors, such as avoiding airports and railway stations, densely populated areas, nature heritage reserves, and high-rise buildings, prevent the drone from flying in a straight line, sometimes making the flight distance greater than the ground distance.

“For economic reasons, different air routes must share the same relay points, which extends the distance of some flights. Finally, in urban areas, the comparison of delivery times must consider the traffic situation, and the time savings from drones could be greater in cities with more congested traffic.”

Well; it might not need saying; but there are way better drones; specifically tailor-made with package delivery in mind; that are miles better that multicopter drones.

Zipline, Wingcopter, Swoop Aero, AerialMetric and even Avy have perfected the art of making delivery drones that can easily fly for 80km one-way.

We figure they may need better endurance drones, but in Shenzhen, they hope the system will work smoothly, just as it has done almost everywhere in has been implemented in Africa. Its proponents argue that the system will address long-standing challenges associated with urban ground traffic, particularly in emergency situations requiring timely blood delivery.

With the ability to cover distances quickly, the drone platform promises to revolutionise the landscape of medical emergency response.

According to the centre, a total of 203 trial runs were completed before the platform was officially launched; and they oversaw the transportation of 434 kilograms of blood, as well as red blood cells, plasma and other blood-related products.

“The unveiling of the blood transportation drone platform in Shenzhen holds significance, as it exemplifies the city’s leadership in technology and innovation,” said Wei Jianzhang, vice-president of the Belt and Road Initiative’s International Cooperation and Development Research Institute in Shenzhen.

“It not only addresses a critical need in healthcare logistics, but also establishes Shenzhen as a model for leveraging advanced technology to enhance public services.

“The impact of this initiative is likely to extend beyond Shenzhen, influencing the adoption of similar solutions across China as the country continues to embrace technological innovation for societal betterment.”


Leave a Comment


Welcome! Login in to your account

Remember me Lost your password?

Lost Password