Rwanda and Tanzania Introduce Delivery Drones

Delivery Drones in Africa

Most people view drones as falling into one of two categories: either they’re military weapons, or intrusive toys. However, drone technology can be used for a wide range of beneficial applications, like saving lives.

In 2017, in Rwanda, a young woman was holding onto life by a thread. After giving birth via C-section, she started bleeding heavily due to complications. The doctors had already given her two blood transfusions of matching blood, but that was all the blood that they had on hand at the facility. She needed more blood, and soon.

Her best option was for the doctors to call the national blood bank in the Rwandan capital, Kigali. While there was blood available, getting it to the facility where she was in surgery would have taken up to 4 hours due to mountainous territory and a lack of infrastructure.

The doctors turned to another option instead. They contacted a distribution centre near Kigali, where clinic workers and a flight crew loaded up small unmanned aircraft – or drones – with the required blood and medical supplies. The drones arrived in just 45 minutes and delivered the life-saving resources to the clinic.

This wouldn’t have been possible without American start-up company Zipline who introduced the drones to Rwanda in 2016 for the purpose of delivering medical supplies in remote areas. The company is expanding into Tanzania to set up the largest drone delivery service in the world which will be capable of making 2000 deliveries per day, right here on the African continent. Zipline has endeavoured to recruit workers from the communities they operate in, creating empowerment from a grassroots level.

The Zipline drones have a fixed wingspan of 6 feet, and are capable of reaching a cruising speed of over 100 km/h. The drones are capable of carrying a 1.5kg payload each, with batteries that can propel the drone for a round trip of around 150km. They have a modular design, so parts can easily be replaced if need be. Additionally, the drones are equipped with a parachute and a cardboard cargo bay, which keeps the craft light.

Compared with road transport, these drones are quite cost effective and in areas where infrastructure is underdeveloped, such as in African countries, they are a reliable alternative.

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