The government of Rwanda has launched a drone-based delivery service to help distribute medical supplies to remote areas within the country. According to BBC, the world’s first commercial drone delivery service will operate by using fixed-wing drones that automatically fly to pre-programed destinations within the central African nation.
The drones release small packages attached to parachutes without needing to land at the delivery points. The technology promises to make deliveries much faster than what had previously been possible by road.
The New Times reports that the medical supply delivery project is the result of a joint partnership between the Rwandan government and U.S.-based robotics company, Zipline Inc. The goal was to build and operate an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) system to ensure efficient logistical transportation of medical supplies in the country.
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Once in full operation, the drones are expected to take off and land at the drone port in Muhanga District, delivering up to 150 medical supplies per day, including blood, plasma, and coagulants to about 21 health facilities in rural western Rwanda. The service is expected to greatly reduce the length of time it required to get life-saving supplies across to health facilities that desperately need them.
The aircrafts will be launched using a catapult and fly below 500 feet to avoid the airspace used by passenger planes. Each drone is powered by a nose-mounted battery, allowing for an operational range of 93 miles, while using GPS location data to self-navigate across the region.
The drones send back information to both their base and to Rwandan air traffic control via a cellular connection, and they’re built to fly around the clock and in up to 19 mph winds and light rain. Zipline estimates that each drone trip would cost about as much as a similar road trip by ambulance or motorbike.
Drones have been used to deliver small packages by several delivery companies, including DHL and Amazon, but this is the first time drones are being put to use on a commercial scale for the delivery of medical supplies anywhere in the world.
Despite the promise of drones aiding in the speedy and convenient deployment of essential humanitarian supplies across rural or inaccessible areas across Africa, the continent has been reluctant to fully exploit the potentials of drone technology due to concerns by many governments that they could easily be used to breach security and privacy. Experts, however, believe that with the appropriate legislation, those concerns can be addressed and effectively taken care of.