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Rwanda’s now using drones to deliver medical supplies

Drones are all the rage these days, but they’re being put to life-saving use in Rwanda, in the form of so-called Zip drones.

Zipline teamed up with the Rwandan government for the project, which sees the drones able to drop blood, vaccines and other medical supplies to remote areas.

“Zip is a small robot airplane designed for a high level of safety, using many of the same approaches as commercial airliners. It can carry vaccines, medicine, or blood. A fleet of Zips is able to provide for a population of millions. No roads, no problem,” Zipline wrote on its website.

The Zip drones are able to travel at 100km/h, bypassing treacherous terrain and accurately dropping supplies in the process.

The project will see blood products being delivered to 20 hospitals and health centres in the country.

All a medical worker needs to do is request supplies (be it by text or phone call), with a medical warehouse worker then collecting the supplies and packaging it. The drone, which is located at the warehouse, then undergoes pre-flight testing before being catapulted away and flying autonomously.

The Zipline drones could revolutionise medical care in rural areas in Rwanda and abroad

The recipient then receives a notification, telling them that the drone is two minutes away and that they need to wait outside for the delivery.

“In the best case scenario, it would take at least four hours (to deliver supplies to rural facilities), but with Zipline, we are looking at cutting that four hours to something like 15 minutes,” said youth and ICT minister Jean Philbert Nsengimana in a Zipline video.

The company was confident in the drone’s air-drop accuracy, saying that it would account for wind and use mapping data to drop packages. In fact, Zipline says it’s recruited employees from Boeing, Google, Lockheed-Martin and SpaceX to develop the drone.

Author | Hadlee Simons

Hadlee Simons
Terrible puns make Hadlee Simons difficult to work with, but he brings almost seven years of tech journalism experience to the table. When he's not at work or watching motorsport, he's in the foetal position on a jiu jitsu mat. More