In the United States, drone delivery is still a novelty, luxury phenomenon that’s a little too peak 2016 to be an everyday reality. But in Rwanda, it could be a lifesaving development. Zipline, a San Francisco Bay Area based drone company, debuted a small, fixed-wing delivery drone that can carry small packages filled with essential medical supplies like blood or vaccines to clinics that are nigh-inaccessible by land.
In Rwanda, a lack of local infrastructure and rough terrain mean many villages are extremely difficult to access by road. When medical problems arise, under-supplied clinics often have no way to get emergency supplies, especially blood, in time to save their patients’ lives. “Zipline is designed to allow public healthcare systems to be able to always make a delivery when someone’s in trouble,” said Keller Rinaudo, one of Zipline’s cofounders. The company has a partnership with the Rwandan ministry of health — according to the Associated Press, it will be able to serve almost all of the over 10,000 square mile country with two launch hubs, which can fit inside a modified shipping container and hold a fleet of 10 to 15 planes each.
The “Zips,” as the company’s founders call them, are small fixed-wing drones with a pop-open compartment on the bottom that releases a small cardboard package with a parachute. The company thinks its drones can complete many deliveries in as little as 15-30 minutes, navigating with GPS transceivers hooked up to Rwanda’s cell phone network and flying at about 60 miles per hour. Dispatchers at one of the hubs load supplies, pop in a battery, and program the drone’s flight; it then flies the mission, drops its payload and returns to the hub, where it can be immediately re-used with a fresh battery. According to AP, the cost of a trip is about the same as doing the delivery on a motorcycle, but far more reliable, as the short travel time means there’s no need for refrigeration or navigating dangerous roads.
Watch a video showing the process below: