Caption of a Zipline drone throwing a medical package in a remote hospital far from the capital Kigali
Rwanda’s infrastructure is so poor that, it can take four hours for life-saving medical supplies to be delivered to its rural regions. But by using drones to bypass dilapidated roads, robotics company Zipline is working to cure Rwanda's transport and medical access issue and shorten delivery times to just 15 minutes and patients can get access to care immediately.
The operation uses fixed-wing drones that automatically fly to destinations in the central African nation. They release small packages attached to parachutes without needing to land at the delivery points before returning. The technology promises to make deliveries much faster than had previously been possible by road. Zipline, the US start-up running the project, is made up of engineers who formerly worked at Space X, Google, Lockheed Martin and other tech companies. Its drones will initially be used to deliver blood, plasma, and coagulants to hospitals across rural areas in Rwanda, helping to cut waiting times from hours to minutes.
The medical drone being launched into airspace by a Rwandese IT and robotics expert
A Zipline drone flying in airspace automatically while being controlled at the command centre.
The aircraft is launched from a catapult and fly below 500ft (152m) to avoid the airspace used by passenger planes. They have an operational range of 150km (93 miles) but could, in theory, fly almost twice that distance. . The drones are powered by a nose-mounted battery and guide themselves using GPS location data. They send back information to both their base and to Rwandan air traffic control via a cellular connection.
President Paul Kagame of Rwanda inspecting the performance of the drone services after its launch months ago
Zipline will be paid by Rwanda's health department and the President’s office on a per delivery basis. The company says the cost per trip is roughly equal to that of the current delivery method, by motorbike, trucks or ambulance.
A health worker receiving the package after its drop by the drone
Source: Zipeline robotics and Ministry of transport in Rwanda