• Doctors, nurses and patients in under-developed parts of Rwanda do not have to worry about medical supplies including blood and medicines anymore as these items can be delivered just by a simple text message.

    Using drones, which have been customized to suit the needs of the locals will fly to a clinic using Global Position System (GPS) coordinates but instead of landing, it will drop the required package by parachute, Aljazeera reported.

    According to Zipline, the company that is working with the Rwandan government, says the aircraft will be in a position to make about 150 deliveries to 21 facilities in the African country, which is sparsely populated.

    "I think that one of the best ways we can work together with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to help this technology take off in the US is by operating in a country where we can basically serve a very clear need and get tens of thousands of hours of safe flight data," said Keller Rinaudo, the CEO of Zipline.

    Rwanda is quickly developing, but it still has miles to go especially with the provision of quality health care.

    In a statement, the Silicon Valley startup said it will start operating the drones in July. Yet to be piloted, the autonomous vehicle will convey supplies to hospitals and health centers across the East African nation. Zipline describes the project as one of the world’s first drone delivery system to operate at a national scale.

    Plunged in various diseases including HIV, malaria, tuberculosis among others, the new tech device will help ease the way in which the medical supplies are delivered in Rwanda also known as the ‘land of a thousand hills’ where the road network is poor. Moreover, the new delivery method is faster compared to motorcycles and trucks.

    “To put it into perspective, when you don’t have paved roads, sometimes it’s impossible to get out to these hospitals and health clinics, and sometimes it’s just difficult,” Keller said in an interview Monday. “But it’s always unpredictable and unreliable.”

    Last year, Rwanda announced it was making plans to establish world’s first drone airport. The country’s Civil Aviation Authority said it was drafting regulations on unmanned aerial vehicles to be submitted to the government’s cabinet. The officials hoped at the time that the regulations would be in place by 2016 when a pilot project for cargo drones is set to break ground.

    Rwanda’s aviation regulatory body has cleared Zipline for takeoff, a move that Zipline CEO and founder attribute to Rwandan relaxed airspace protocols, and the fact that there are fewer hobby pilots, parachutists and commercial flights for drones to dodge. Rwanda also has less bureaucracy, according to the company.

    The mechanism

    The Zipline drone has two fixed wings, mirroring those of model airplane than the insect-like quadcopter drone.

    Everything that runs the aircraft is automated and has full sensors that send flight information back to the ground to be logged and interpreted by Zipline engineers. According to the company, the data collected is invaluable as it works to build its credibility as a drone delivery company.

    "We obviously learn about this process," he was quoted by CNet as having said of the drone delivery program during the launch last Thursday at Zipline's headquarters, San Francisco, "but this is a strictly humanitarian mission, and we're excited to be a part of it."

    In March, the Malawian Government and the United Nations Children’s fund (UNICEF) started testing the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to explore cost-effective ways of reducing waiting times for HIV testing of infants.

    Drones in Malawi will be used to fly to and fro hospitals labs and rural health clinics carrying with them blood samples and results to the targeted areas. This is in a bid to cut the cost of waiting time of testing of HIV among children, and consequently save the children through early treatment.

    With such progressive technologies being launched on the continent, Africa is set to benefit in saving its people by addressing health issues, faster and cheaper.


    Image credit: Sally French, MarketWatch