First drone blood drop in Rwanda


Robotics company Zipline International has started using unmanned aerial vehicles to deliver much-needed medical supplies to remote clinics in Rwanda.

The company has partnered with the Rwandan government, which will pay for each drone delivery of medical supplies.

Delivering medication and blood supplies via drones allows countries such as Rwanda to overcome the lack of road infrastructure.

During the rainy season in the country, it is hard to reach remote areas. Rwanda minister of youth and ICT Jean Philbert Nsengimana says the best case scenario would be four hours by car or bike.
“But with Zipline, we can cut that time to something like 15 minutes.”

The company worked together with a team from Rwanda whose vision was to put each of the country’s 11 million citizens within a 15- to 35-minute delivery range of any essential medical product they could need.
“That’s a revolutionary idea for any country in the world,” says Zipline.

The drone, once loaded with supplies, will follow a preloaded route to the clinic, drop the package and circle back to the warehouse.

The drone, once loaded with supplies, will follow a preloaded route to the clinic, drop the package and circle back to the warehouse.

The particular drone used for deliveries was specially developed by the robotics company. It looks like a small plane and uses satellite navigation to fly to its preprogramed destination.

The doctor or clinic professional puts in a request for supplies via SMS or phone call. The package is then prepared and placed in the drone. The drone is launched and follows a route to the clinic. The doctor is SMSed two minutes before the package will be dropped and asked to go outside. The drone circles the landing area and drops the package, which has a small parachute attached to slow down its landing. The drone then returns to the warehouse.

International delivery company UPS announced in May it would back the medical drone start-up. At the time, it was said this underlined the wide potential for the aircraft and would help bring package delivery by drone to consumers in other countries a step closer.

UPS provided a grant of $800 000 plus logistical support through the UPS Foundation to a partnership including Gavi, a group providing vaccines to poor countries, and Zipline International.

There have been a number of examples this year of drones being used locally and globally.

In March, Kruger National Park and various partners announced they would invest R16 million in drone technology to fight poaching.

In April, Australia Post successfully field-trialled the use of drones to deliver small packages.

As far back as 2013, online retailer Amazon said it was testing delivery using drones, and Google has promised such a service by 2017. Retailer Walmart is also testing drones.