E-Juba, a new type of courier service

E-Juba is an electronic pigeon that is being trialed to courier medical samples to labs from remote locations in South Africa.

Clinics in remote areas of South Africa can only be reached on unpaved roads that are impassable in rain. Even in good weather, the trip to the nearest lab is a long one for the couriers, taxis, or ambulances transporting samples, producing long delays in diagnosing and treating diseases like tuberculosis.

“The implications of these delays are huge for the individual and for the community,” says project leader Barry Mendelow of the South African National Health Laboratory Service. “The patient is waiting for treatment, and in the meantime they could be passing on a very contagious disease.”

Electric pigeon

Inspired by carrier pigeons, the UAVs (uncrewed aerial vehicles) are designed to be launched from clinics and pilot themselves along a pre-programmed route to the nearest lab, using GPS and microelectronic gyroscopes to guide them.

They drop their cargo at a predetermined spot, or on directions from the ground, and return along their flight path. The UAV can land automatically, or under remote control by staff.

The pilot project has successfully test-flown two different UAVs originally designed for military surveillance. Both could launch, fly and drop dummy samples in wind speeds of up to 45 kilometres per hour.

The results come back by SMS text messages.

I wonder if similar applications could be used in the UK to deliver samples from remote areas of Scotland or Wales.

Sarah

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