From The Intelligent Optimist
Imagine for a moment that a child is critically ill in a small village weeks away from any hospital. With no quick means of transportation, the child’s worried doctor picks up the phone or sends a text and, in a matter of hours, the much-needed medical supplies are delivered—via drone.
While in some regions of the world the word drone has become synonymous with terror, these unmanned aircraft will be a welcome sight this summer in the hills of Rwanda, where much of the country’s population lives in rural communities, some connected only by unpaved roads.
The drone mission is the result of a partnership between the government of Rwanda and the Silicon Valley–based startup Zipline International to establish the world’s first full-scale medical-supply drone delivery network. The 15-drone fleet initially will be able to make 50 to 150 deliveries per day to 21 clinics, dropping up to 22 pounds of supplies carried by paper parachutes, released at low altitude. Each “Zip,” as the drones are known, then will return to the “droneport” to pick up a new battery and a new destination stored in a SIM card. A Zip can fly 75 hours on a single battery charge and can deliver a cardboard-box packet of medical supplies in 30 minutes, according to the company.
The Rwandan government, with the help of Zipline, will put drones to use primarily for delivery of blood and pharmaceuticals and then, more broadly, by delivering other commercial goods, such as electronics and spare parts to remote parts of the country. The government sees the drones as key to the country’s economic development.
Thanks to the speed of the drone system, supplies like blood and vaccines can be kept at the correct temperature and can be delivered directly to the facilities using GPS navigation. The drones will even be able to fly in rough weather conditions, enduring winds of up to 30 miles per hour.
The world’s first droneport is in the capital, Kigali, but expansion plans call for three additional droneport buildings by 2020. The success of the drone system is vital not only to Rwanda but to other nations, as it could provide a blueprint for how to improve health and economic outcomes via drones.
Zipline co-founder and CEO Keller Rinaudo predicted that the drone deliveries will “save hundreds of lives in the first couple of years, if everything goes right.” | Ivar Lannen | FIND OUT MORE: youtube.com/watch?v=KP-3xjB8Hd8