Festschrift: Professor Hendrik Johannes Koornhof

Development of e-Juba, a preliminary proof of concept UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) designed to facilitate the transportation of microbiological test samples from remote rural clinics to NHLS laboratories.

Barry Mendelow, Peter Muir, Turcia Boshielo, John Robertson



The HIV/AIDS pandemic currently ravaging sub-Saharan Africa is placing severe demands on laboratory services in the subcontinent, both in its own right and also in consequence of the attendant epidemic of TB and opportunistic infections. These are all laboratory-intensive diseases, whose optimal treatment is not amenable to the clinical syndromic management approach. These demands are particularly severe in remote rural areas, many of which lack basic infrastructure such as landline telecommunications, ESCOM power supply and adequate roads. Logistics in such areas are usually the rate limiting barriers to effective laboratory service delivery.

The e-Juba (electronic pigeon) project is an experimental, joint undertaking between the National Health Laboratory Service and Denel Dynamics (UAV division), to address the afferent, pre-analytical phase of the laboratory logistical loop, viz. specimen transport, in remote areas. Typically, centralized laboratories at the hubs of such areas serve approximately 20 clinics each, which are located approximately 10-30km distant. For a variety of reasons, reliable transportation between such hubs and their spokes has traditionally been refractory to conventional solutions, including courier services, taxis, ambulances, motorcycles and even helicopters. Based on the precedent of carrier pigeons, which have been used with partial success to transport medical samples in rural areas, the concept of the electronic carrier pigeon was developed to overcome the “one way” limitation of natural carrier pigeons.

This report describes the specifications and preliminary trials of e-Juba, a mini-UAV designed to transport a payload of up to 500g over a distance of up to 40km via multiple GPS Lat/Long/Alt waypoints to a specified target. The conception and design of the aircraft and its payload have been guided by recent developments in the following; molecular diagnostics, which facilitate reduction in sample size and novel dried spot format to eliminate biological hazard and to bypass the cold chain; lithium polymer chemistry for low weight batteries; brushless electro mechanics which enhance the efficiency and reliability of electric motors; GPS and differential GPS technology to facilitate unmanned navigation; MEMS (micro-electromechanical systems) technologies for miniaturized inertial guidance systems including 3 dimensional gyros and accelerometers to facilitate autonomous aircraft stability; ultrasound ground detection technologies; multiple other onboard detectors and telemetric devices, and the GSM data wireless networks for post-analytical communication of results.

Authors' affiliations

Barry Mendelow, NHLS

Peter Muir, Denel Dynamics

Turcia Boshielo, Denel Aerospace Systems

John Robertson, NHLS

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Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2007;97(11):1215.

Article History

Date submitted: 2007-07-03
Date published: 2007-11-23

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