Rwanda uses drones for good

Despite a reputation more for combat and commercial applications, drone technology can offer constructive and positive uses to the world, especially to Africa. Various drone projects are being used for meteorological research, environmental and animal conservation and, in particular, healthcare support.

A new drone delivery venture between the Rwandan health department and an American technology company is bringing the country’s rural and urban regions closer together.

Drone technology was originally developed by the US military for unmanned combat. Zipline, an American technology company made up of former innovators from SpaceX, Google and aircraft developer Lockheed Martin, has modified the technology as a transport delivery system. The Silicon Valley company has partnered with the Rwandan government to trial a system that delivers medical equipment, primarily blood supplies, to the country’s western rural areas.

“The inability to deliver lifesaving medicines to the people who need them the most causes millions of preventable deaths each year around the world,” Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo said in a launch statement: “This instant delivery system… allows medicine to be delivered on-demand and at low-cost, anywhere.

“The company not only builds and supplies the unmanned aircraft but also trains Rwandan pilots in using the drones to transport resources from urban hospitals to remote clinics across the country. It is expected to be particularly useful during the country’s rainy season, when ground delivery of supplies proves the most difficult.

According to Zipline, the drones are able to travel up to 150 kilometres, with a payload of one to two kilograms.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame called the system a “milestone” for Rwanda and Africa at the project’s official launch and the first successful delivery in October 2016.

The fixed-wing drones are flown automatically via GPS positioning over a predetermined course, taking into account weather and geographical conditions. Flying well below commercial airspace, the drone then releases its payload, which is parachuted into a pick-up zone without the need to land.

Currently, the project uses 15 drones, operating around the clock, delivering vital blood products, including plasma and coagulants, to 21 rural clinics.

Both the company and the Rwandan government hope to improve on the pilot project, experimenting with larger payloads and longer distances, as well creating job opportunities for the manufacturing and maintenance of drone equipment, and even a drone pilot-training project.

Source: BBC News reporter

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