Silicon Valley Startup uses Drones to Deliver Medical Supplies in Rwanda

In Rwanda, as in many rural parts of Africa, effective healthcare is hard to come by. On top of this, infrastructure issues mean that thousands of lives are lost simply because important medicines and supplies can't be quickly transported from one location to another. 

That's the problem that Silicon Valley startup Zipline has set out to solve. The solution? Drones, of course.

The company announced this week that it will begin flying its drones in Rwanda in the summer, having formed a partnership with the Ministry of Health. The autonomous planes will deliver supplies to hospitals and health centers across the country, creating what Zipline describes as the world’s first drone delivery system to operate at a national scale.

“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 Rinaudo, Zipline CEO, said in an interview Monday. “But it’s always unpredictable and unreliable.”

The system kicks into action after a health worker places an order via text message. Within minutes, a Zip plane can be loaded with supplies and launched into the sky. Flying at over 100 km/h, the Zip arrives faster than any other mode of transport can - short of using a helicopter for every delivery. The medical products are then dropped off using a parachute, landing gently and accurately at the health facility in a pre-ordained area the size of a few parking spaces.

The Zipline team is based in San Francisco 

The Zipline team is based in San Francisco 

Although Rwanda will be the first real-world test of Zipline's autonomous medial supply drops, the company's website states that its "partnership with Rwanda is just the beginning. Zipline will deliver a wide range of medical products in other countries this year".