We know that the giants of the web, Amazon in mind, dream of using drones to deliver their customers at home. Unfortunately for these companies, most Western countries drastically restrict the conditions of use and flight of civilian drones. A Californian startup had the idea to go elsewhere. It was in Rwanda that Zipline implemented a drone delivery service. A service that can save lives in a country where means of communication are scarce: the delivery of medicines and blood to local hospitals and dispensaries in the country.
Created in 2014, Zipline is a Silicon Valley startup, funded and supported by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, Google Ventures, and Sequoia Partners, among others. In less than two years, Zipline engineers, some of whom have worked for Boeing, SpaceX or NASA, have developed Zips, drones that run on electricity.
Thanks to a partnership concluded with the Rwandan government, some 15 Zips UAVs will start operating in July over a large part of the country. Their mission? To deliver in less than 30 minutes, and with the help of a small parachute, blood, medicines, vaccines, anti-venom, etc. to the various hospitals in Rwanda, this small East African country where HIV, tuberculosis and malaria are currently wreaking havoc.
The founders of Zipline did not choose Rwanda at random: it is a country with a tormented relief, the "land of a thousand hills", where roads, if they exist at all, are often impassable and make long and perilous, if not impossible, the delivery of basic necessities.
In a country ravaged by inter-ethnic conflicts and the political and diplomatic crises that followed the 1994 genocide, with a per capita GDP of 724$, medical aid is desperately needed. Rwanda ranks 22nd among the world's poorest countries. Average life expectancy is only 60 years. However, much progress has been made, both in terms of economic growth and the humanitarian situation, since infant mortality is estimated to have decreased by 75% and the poverty rate to have fallen from 59 % in 2001 to 45 % in 2011, according to World Bank data. However, for William Hetzler, one of the founders of Zipline, the country has not said its last word: "Rwanda aims to become the technology hub of East Africa and eventually of Africa as a whole. ".
The configuration of the country makes Zipline's challenge technically possible: it is a modestly sized country allowing routes of less than thirty minutes to reach many points of the territory. An important detail: in 30 minutes, a blood bag can be delivered without the need for a refrigeration system.
In concrete terms, when a remote hospital in the bush needs a medicine, all it has to do is place an order by SMS. An electric drone will be able to take on board a cargo of almost one and a half kilos and travel up to 120 kilometres. As the country is about 200 km wide, a significant proportion of the 12 million inhabitants could be affected. The packages will be transported in a padded box and dropped at low altitude with a parachute.
No doubt other countries will be interested in this service. For once, drones are not the only thing killers as many in the military would like them to be, but lifesavers.