Drones Will Deliver Meds In Rwanda Starting This Summer

Zipline, a California startup, will soon start supplying remote areas of Rwanda with medical supplies via drone-based drop shipments. The shipments will begin in July, and will be made possible using fixed-wing drones able to travel many miles. Zipline will operate the service for the nation's government, and will be able to get much-needed supplies, like emergency medication, to remote regions within a single day rather than the weeks or months other methods can take.

Many places in this world are not easily accessible by land, whether due to a lack of roads, due to seasonal weather that has temporarily made the roads impassible, or because the roads meander over large, convoluted patches of land. Drones bypass all those issues, obviously, by going directly to the destination via the sky where there's nothing to get in the way; a trip that may take weeks or months by land could be achieved in mere hours via the sky.

The idea of using drones in this manner is not new; in fact, Rwanda has previously explored the possibility of a so-called "drone airport" from which drones could be loaded and launched, and where they could return after a delivery mission. While that airport doesn't yet exist, drone deliveries certainly do, and they'll start in about half of Rwanda this upcoming summer, expanding later on to cover more areas.

This will make Rwanda the first country with a drone delivery system in place, something made possible, in part, due to the country's willingness to embrace the new technology rather than regulate and stifle it. The drone delivery system will have a 15-drone fleet able of deliver blood and meds up to 150 times a day. Each payload can weigh up to 3.5lbs.

Medical supplies are only one possible medical use for drones; in late 2014, for example, we saw the Ambulance Drone, a drone equipped with life-saving equipment like a defibrillator that could be summoned in emergency medical situations.

As with other drones, these uses are problematic in the U.S. and other places with strict drone usage rules; in the U.S., for example, drones can't be operated in regions that are populated. That could be changing soon, though, as a recent report claims the FAA has received a list of recommendations from a government-backed committee. The recommendations, if accepted, would lead to regulations establishing rules and permissions for operating commercial drones in populous areas.

SOURCE: New York Times