Thursday, August 11, 2016

ZIPLINE DRONE SERVICE Delivering Medic Supplies in RWANDA

It would appear that the mid 2010s is shaping up to be the dawn of the widespread use of remote-controlled drones. The evolution of what drones do has also been impressive, from being mere flying cameras to actually delivering small packages like Amazon – and unscrupulous drug smugglers – does. It’s the latter function that is perhaps the most important and humanitarian application for drones yet. A new well-meaning startup firm from California is about to put its own revolutionary spin in delivering medical supplies across rough country, and it is testing that concept in the African nation of Rwanda.

The Zipline Company, in partnership with the world renowned UPS delivery service, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), and the Rwandan government, is developing a drone delivery system that could carry supplies like vaccines or blood packets by air to remote destinations, according to a report by Digital Trends. In tiny Rwanda for instance, there’s a severe lack of paved roads, only dirt paths winding up, down and around numerous hills making for difficult going even for off-road vehicles. As Rwandan Youth & ICT Minister Jean Philbert Nsengimana puts it, more often than not a truck trying to take live-saving supplies or equipment through the country’s terrain would arrive too late to make a difference in worst case scenarios.

With Zipline’s delivery system, such tragic stories would not need to come to pass, in accordance with the company’s motto: “One delivery, one life saved. It’s that simple.” The centerpiece of the operation lies in the Zip, an aircraft-shaped drone designed with dream team elements according to input from illustrious contributors like aircraft manufacturer Lockheed-Martin. With a construction composed mostly of 3D-printed components, the Zip is equipped with a bomb-bay- like cargo compartment where the delivery is stored by means of a cardboard carrying box equipped with a simple folded parachute.

Zipline delivery platforms would be set up next to medical supply hubs like major hospitals. A distant clinic could request for a delivery from the Zipline hub by text. The hub then loads the needed supplies in a Zipline parachute box stowed in the Zip’s cargo bay. The drone is then launched and piloted remotely to the destination clinic. Upon arrival at the clinic’s airspace, the Zip can drop the package which then parachutes down for the recipient to retrieve.

With $18 million in funding already raised from Yahoo’s Jerry Yang and Microsoft’s Paul Allen, Zipline is set to begin operations in Rwanda, with 15 Zip drones servicing 20 hospitals and health care centers throughout the so-called Country of a Thousand Hills. Once the Rwandan delivery operation is proven to work effectively, Zipline plans to expand its services to other countries, including in the US.

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