The world's first regular humanitarian drone delivery service hit the skies this morning in Rwanda, the "land of a thousand hills."
The project is a collaboration between the Silicon Valley robotics start-up Zipline and the Rwandan government. Their fleet will consist of 15 drones, called “zips”, which will be able to drop lifesaving medical products, vaccines, and emergency supplies of blood to clinics around the clock, BBC reports.
Rwandan president Paul Kagame launched the very first drone at an opening ceremony on October 14. As you can see in the video of Kagame below, the drones are launched from a slinging catapult and then ascend to around 150 meters (500 feet).
Using GPS location data, they are then capable of flying to destinations at least 150 kilometers (93 miles) away and then return back to camp. A clinic or doctor simply needs to send a text message to the Zipline distribution center and the drone will deliver the needed supplies ASAP. When the drone reaches its destination, it will simply open up its storage hatch and drop the package with a parachute attached, as seen in the image below.
Once fully up and running, the project will be able to serve 7 million people in an area of around 18,000 square kilometers (7,000 square miles), according to The Verge.
Aerial drones are able to deliver emergency supplies significantly faster than by road, particularly in the areas of hilly central Africa where roads can often be treacherous or blocked following extreme weather.
The concept of humanitarian drones is not a new phenomenon. There have been instances of drones delivering aid supplies after the Nepalese earthquake in 2015, finding displaced people following a typhoon in the Philippines in 2014, and in many other humanitarian crises in central Africa. By all accounts, the idea is here to stay.
“People have this sense that the US leads the world in terms of technology and then Africa catches up, and I actually think that might be changing,” said Keller Rinaudo, Zipline’s chief executive, according to Washington Post. “This is a great example. It’s actually smaller countries like Rwanda that are willing to take risks and actually invest in something radically new."
A "zip" dropping a supply package. ZipLine
The ZipLine team, with five of their drones. ZipLine.