ITOCHU Announces the Proof of Concept of Blood Derivative Transportation using the Latest eVTOL Drone from Germany

-Initiative to Verify the Validity of a New Transportation Method, aiming for Social Implementation-

May 25, 2023

ITOCHU Corporation (headquartered in Minato-ku, Tokyo; Keita Ishii, President & COO; hereinafter “ITOCHU”) announced today that ITOCHU has implemented the first proof of concept for medical validation in Japan of a method for transporting blood derivatives using a drone, aiming for its social implementation (hereinafter the “Project”). The proof of concept was conducted at DRONE FIELD KAWACHI (hereinafter the “Site”) in Inashiki-gun, Ibaraki.

The goal of the Project is to verify the potential of difficult-to-achieve fully automated stable, high-speed, and long-distance flights for the transportation of blood derivatives that require temperature control, which is also believed to be difficult to achieve with general multi-copter drones, by using a drone from Wingcopter GmbH (hereinafter “Wingcopter”) in Germany who ITOCHU established capital and business alliance with in March 2022, in cooperation with Tokyo Metropolitan Bokutoh Hospital (hereinafter “Bokutoh Hospital”) as a collaborative researcher and ANA HOLDINGS INC. (hereinafter “ANAHD”) as a collaborative operator. It also includes verification of quality control.

Using Wingcopter’s latest W198*1 eVTOL drone for the first time in Japan, we planned and conducted several long-distance and long-duration flights anticipating the need to transport blood to distant places. A cold box for drones capable of storing blood derivatives that require strict temperature control was provided by Sugiyama-Gen Co., Ltd., which has a track record in the production and sale of constant-temperature transportation containers for medical purposes. In addition, TOHO HOLDINGS CO., LTD. and SAROUTE Co., Ltd. cooperated in the provision of transportation containers for blood derivatives and their transportation between Bokutoh Hospital where two types of blood derivatives were procured and the field where the demonstration experiments were conducted (round trip, approx. 75 km one-way).

In 2017, Wingcopter was established with the corporate mission of improving the lives of people in countries and regions around the world through its drones. Since its foundation, Wingcopter has focused on the commercialization of drone logistics, mainly in the field of medical products, through the development of delivery networks for medical supplies in Africa. It is conducting demonstration experiments in various parts of the world, including Japan. It is expected that by using Wingcopter’s drones that are capable of stable, high-speed, and long-distance flight, people will be able to deliver foodstuffs and daily necessities in addition to medical supplies and medical equipment, which will contribute to BCP for isolated islands, mountain areas and disaster-affected areas especially in Japan, where natural disasters are frequent.

In Japan, the Civil Aeronautics Act revised in December 2022 lifted a ban on Level 4 flights (flights beyond visual line of sight in populated areas)*2, which significantly expanded drone applications. By nature, the blood that was transported in this demonstration experiment must be transported quickly and on schedule, and the securing of infrastructure and personnel able to support logistics and the stable supply and quality maintenance of blood have become big issues. By verifying a transportation flow using practical methods and equipment with the guidance and collaboration of medical professionals in anticipation of operations on the front lines of healthcare, this demonstration test shows that drones will significantly contribute to the resolution of an array of social issues as an effective means of fulfilling logistics needs.

ITOCHU aims to realize business transformation by shifting to a market-oriented perspective and enhance our contribution to and engagement with the SDGs through business activities as stated in the basic policies in its Medium-Term Management Plan. Based on those policies, ITOCHU’s goal is to help achieve the SDGs through the evolution of business models, maintaining the infrastructure supporting human lives, and protecting the environment. Leveraging this demonstration test, ITOCHU will build a drone delivery network using the high-performance W198 tilt-rotor*3 drone, aiming to address the diverse needs and issues of society.

  • *1The official name of the drone is Wingcopter 198.
    It has a tilt-rotor mechanism that was developed and manufactured in-house by Wingcopter. The fixed-wing drone is capable of autonomous vertical takeoff, landing and hovering, similar to a multicopter. Additionally, the model’s triple-drop functionality enables delivery to three points on a single flight.
  • *2Level 4 flights (flights beyond visual line of sight in populated areas)
    Unmanned aircraft (drone) flights over populated areas, such as urban centers, without constant visual monitoring. These flights were uniformly banned before Civil Aviation Amendment which took place last December.
  • *3Tilt-rotor
    Tilt-rotor technology enables vertical or short-distance takeoffs and landings by tilting the drone’s rotors (rotating airfoils similar to propellers).

Roles of each company in the Project

ITOCHU Coordination of the demonstration experiment, provision of equipment and operation
Bokutoh Hospital Collaborative research (provision and analysis of blood derivatives, medical guidance)
ANAHD Collaborative operation (operation of the drone, operation support)
Sugiyama Gen Co., Ltd. Prototyping and provision of cold boxes for transporting blood derivatives
TOHO HOLDINGS CO., LTD. Provision of a refrigerator and freezer for blood derivatives
SAROUTE Co., Ltd. Blood derivative transportation between the hospital and DFK

Outline of Wingcopter GmbH

Company Name Wingcopter GmbH
Representative Tom Plümmer
Head office Feldstrasse 16, 64331 Weiterstadt/Hessen, Germany
Established 2017
Capital 33,095EUR
Number of employees Approx. 150

Reference: Drone specifications

Model W198R1
Max. load 4.5kg at maximum
Wind resistant performance 15m/s average, 20m/s in wind gusts
Cruising speed (standard) 90km/h
Maximum flight distance 110km
Main body (L x W x H) 167cm x 198cm x 66cm
Maximum take-off weight 24.9kg