It is said that constraint can breed innovation, and when it comes to delivering medical cargo by land in Rwanda, also known as the "Land of Thousand Hills," there are some serious limitations at play. To overcome the nation's challenging topography, the local government and US startup Zipline are launching a drone delivery service that will start dropping much-needed blood bags to 20 remote hospitals in the coming months.
The lack of road infrastructure coupled with the mountainous landscape make servicing rural health centers in Rwanda a difficult proposition. Earlier in the year, the Government of Rwanda announced a partnership with Zipline to implement a drone delivery program that would make the country's hilly terrain a non-factor.
Zipline has now revealed a few new details about its plans to carry out this task. Dubbed Zip, the fixed-wing aircraft can fly at up to 100 km/h (62 mph) and will be launched into the air from medical warehouses to make hundreds of deliveries per day.
Doctors will send through their orders via phone or text message and warehouse workers then load up the drone with the blood bag or other necessary items. The team runs pre-flight tests and then Zip flies autonomously to the drop-off point, alerting the doctor on approach and deploying the package with a parachute attached, before returning to base for its next run.
The ultimate goal is to put every one of Rwanda's 11 million-plus residents within a 15 to 35 minute delivery time of any urgent medical product. The effort will begin by bringing blood products to 20 hospitals and health centers this Northern Hemispher summer.
Fixed-wing gliders are becoming a go-to tool for certain drone applications, such as environmental conservation, agriculture and surveillance. They lack the agility of consumer-focused quadcopter designs, but typically offer longer flight times, which makes them ideal for these kinds of application where maneuverability takes a back seat to range.
Without revealing how far its Zip drone can fly at a time, Zipline says its "unprecedented range" makes national-scale coverage possible from a single base.
You can hear from the team and see the drone in action in the video below.