San Francisco based Zipline drones have begun regular humanitarian drone deliveries to hospitals in rural Rwanda.
Through an agreement with the Rwandan government, the company will begin to delivery blood, plasma, and coagulants to hospitals across western Rwanda. Due to the hilly and forested terrain in Rwanda, delivery by road can be slow – drone delivery offers a solution which will dramatically reduce the time to receive critical blood supplies.
Zipline uses fixed-wing drones, as pictured above, which will fly autonomously. The drones release small packages attached to parachutes: they do not land at the delivery destination before returning to their central base. The drones are launched from a catapult: they fly below 500ft in order to avoid the airspace used by passenger planes. The drones’ range is 93 miles; but the company says that they could potentially fly almost twice that distance.
The drones are battery-powered and use GPS location data, communicating with the Zipline base and Rwandan air traffic control via cellular connection. They send back information to both their base and to Rwandan air traffic control via a cellular connection.
The project will start with 15 drones flying around the clock. The drones are weather resistant and can fly in up to 19mph winds and light rain. Zipline is paid by Rwanda’s health department; the cost is approximately the same as it is to delivery by motorbike or ambulance.
Rwanda has been working on drone delivery for some time; introducing the design of a droneport last year. Drone company Flirtey tested rural delivery of blood products in the US earlier this year, as well as ship-to-shore and urban deliveries. But while commercial drone delivery is beginning to operate on a small scale in the US, regulations prohibiting flight beyond visual line of site (BVLOS) so far prohibits a similar program from being used in the US.