Rwanda launches first national drone delivery service

Rwanda launches first national drone delivery service

Rwanda has launched the world’s first national drone delivery service that is expected to see up to 150 emergency medical drone flights made each day.

Speaking during the launch in Muhanga District, Rwandan president Paul Kagame said his government will start using the drones to deliver emergency blood on-demand to 21 transfusing facilities located in the western half of the East African nation with a total population of 11 million.

Robotics firm Zipline based in California, USA has built and is operating the drones and delivery service. It is set to partner with UPS, Gavi and the Vaccine Alliance to expand the types of medicines and life-saving vaccines that can be delivered using the drones.

“Drones are very useful, both commercially and for improving services in the health sector. We are happy to be launching this innovative technology and to continue working with partners to develop it further,” intimated President Kagame.

The national drone delivery program enables blood transfusion clinics in Western Rwanda to place emergency orders through mobile phone text messages to Ziplineat located in Muhanga where the firm has a fleet of 15 drones, called Zips.

According to Zipline, each Zip can fly up to 150 km round trip even in adverse weather conditions and carry up to 1.5kg of blood- enough to save a person’s life and the Zip drops medicine to a designated spot called a “mailbox” near the health centers they serve.

Zipline is expected to make 50-150 emergency flights a day to 21 transfusion clinics across the Western Half of Rwanda, with each order fulfilled in about 30 minutes and the American company plans to expand the drone service to Eastern Rwanda in early 2017.

“The inability to deliver life-saving medicines to the people who need them the most causes millions of preventable deaths each year around the world. We will help solve that problem once and for all,” said Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo.

The Rwanda drone delivery service is a result of partnership between Zipline, UPS and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, through a grant of an equivalent of Ksh 110 million from the logistics firm UPS Foundation, with the lessons learnt in Rwanda expected to be exported to other countries globally.

“One of the most important focus areas for UPS Foundation is to spark public-private partnerships that create powerful scale and drive demonstrable impact in support of global humanitarian aid and relief,” said Eduardo Martinez, the UPS Foundation president and chief diversity and inclusion officer.

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