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Norbert Sparrow

April 5, 2016

2 Min Read
Rwanda will get world’s first network of delivery drones

While Amazon’s delivery drone project fires up imaginations in the first world, drone technology is about to make a real difference in one of the poorest countries on the planet. Zipline (Half Moon Bay, CA), a Silicon Valley startup, is working with the government of Rwanda to set up a fleet of long-distance drones to “airdrop precious blood and medicines to remote medical facilities” across the East African country, reports the MIT Technology Review.

The fleet of 15 drones will be capable of making 50 to 150 deliveries per day to medical facilities, and they will do so within hours instead of the days it can now take. “A health worker can place an order by text message,” explains Zipline on its website. “Within minutes, a Zip is prepared and launched into the sky. Racing along at 100 km/h [62 mph], Zip arrives faster than any other mode of transport, no pilot required.” Equipped with a GPS, the aircraft powered by twin electric motors descends to a low altitude as it nears its destination and drops the life-saving cargo, which is suspended by simple paper parachutes. “One delivery, one life saved. It’s that simple,” writes Zipline.

Rwanda is desperately poor: The International Monetary Fund ranks it 170th in terms of gross domestic product. “And so it is striking that the country will be the first, [Zipline] executives said, to establish a commercial drone delivery network,” writes the New York Times. Part of the reason is a “small decision-making unit in the country,” a member of the Rwandan government told the Times. Moreover, government regulations that have kept U.S. commercial drone projects in a holding pattern are nonexistent in Rwanda, which has prioritized the technology for medical delivery programs and, more broadly, economic development, reports the Times. Rwanda aspires to become a technology hub for East Africa and, ultimately, for the whole continent.

Zipline was founded by Keller Rinaudo and William Hetzler in 2014, after they visited a public health worker in Tanzania who had created a text messaging system that allowed hospital personnel to request urgently needed medical supplies. The insurmountable problem, in many cases, was getting the medical supplies where they were needed in a timely manner. Looking at a database that compiled the text messages, Rinaudo realized that he was seeing a “long list of death sentences,” writes the Times. Back home, Rinaudo and Hetzler assembled a team of engineers to develop an automated delivery system and raised $18 million from investors that include Sequoia Capital, the former Google Ventures, Yahoo founder Jerry Yang and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

Zipline signed a contract with the Rwandan government in February 2016 and will begin delivering blood and medicine to 20 hospitals and healthcare centers throughout the country this summer.

About the Author(s)

Norbert Sparrow

Editor in chief of PlasticsToday since 2015, Norbert Sparrow has more than 30 years of editorial experience in business-to-business media. He studied journalism at the Centre Universitaire d'Etudes du Journalisme in Strasbourg, France, where he earned a master's degree.


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