Drones Are Helping Save Lives In Rwanda


Photo Credit: Zipline

Rwanda is a Republic in East Africa. Topographically, Rwanda is mountainous with rivers traversing its terrain. While prime for agriculture, the country’s topography has created remote areas that are difficult to access by typical means of transportation. Areas in western Rwanda are particularly affected by this remoteness as it hinders the transportation of urgently needed medical supplies.

As a result, the people that live in these areas have suffered greatly. Situations like this justify the need for drone delivery, and fortunately, the government of Rwanda thought so too. With their cooperation, medical drone delivery in Rwanda has been in operation since 2016 and is saving lives every day.

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of delivery drones, they are UAVs that specialize in carrying payloads to deliver resources quickly. Being able to fly over obstacles and avoid traffic, drone delivery would possibly be the quickest and most convenient delivery method, but would not coincide with current regulations set forth by the FAA. While this technology is on the edge of being permissible in the United States, major companies have been experimenting inside and outside of the U.S. with manufacturing a drone capable of delivering packages for a variety of purposes.

Photo Credit: UPS

Most recently, package delivery company UPS was the first company to achieve a commercial drone delivery by flying medical supplies across a campus in North Carolina, and it was UPS’s financial contribution that aided in the development of medical drone delivery in Rwanda. The UPS Foundation awarded an “$800,000 grant to support the initial launch of this initiative in Rwanda.”

Other big players in bringing this system to fruition are the robotics company Zipline and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Zipline was created in 2014 and developed their drone delivery system specifically to deliver urgently needed medical supplies. According to their website, they’ve built the world's fastest and most reliable delivery drone. Though based in California, Zipline builds teams of local operators. Gavi is an international organization dedicated to providing equal access to vaccines.

On October 14th, 2016 Rwandan President Paul Kagame announced the launch of this national drone delivery service. This service would be groundbreaking as it would be the world’s first national drone delivery service. Local operators pilot the drones to the appropriate location and perform a supply drop. The medical supplies then float to the ground via parachute. Before, medical deliveries were impeded by difficult terrain, slower forms of transportation, and washed-out roads.

Video Credit: Zipline

Inherently, Zipline drones avoid these limitations by being able to fly over such obstructions at 100 km/h. They are also battery powered, making them more cost-effective and environmentally sustainable than other delivery methods.

Zipline drones have made over 12,000 deliveries that have saved lives in both Rwanda and Ghana. In the wake of UPS’s delivery, it seems that the United States will soon benefit from this technology as well. The main obstacle in our way is constructing regulations that both protect citizens and maintain efficiency.

According to Farnborough International News Network, Zipline cofounder William Hetzler stated, “The Rwandan Civil Aviation Authority has had a very progressive approach to the technology and has been able to pioneer an excellent performance-based drone regulatory model for the rest of the world.” Hopefully, with Rwanda serving as an example, we can look forward to having more accessible drone deliveries in the future.

I am a writer and an artist based in Georgia. Specializing in illustration, graphic design, and video art, I love to explore the new ways technology intersects with art. I think drones have done amazing things for photography and video art, making what would previously be costly and difficult more accessible. As a complete novice, it was only recently that I saw what independent artists could do with their drones, and I continue to be impressed by the sights that drones are able to explore and the images they can capture. Instagram: @tyesha.ferron

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