Drones are delivering Chipotle in the US and Amazon wants to send our purchases through the air, but we like to think that technology can serve a higher purpose. Now Zipline and the Rwandan government has proved us right by delivering blood to the people that really need it in one of Africa’s poorest nations.

Rwanda has been ravaged by civil war and its road network is poor to say the least. That made it an ideal candidate for drone deliveries that can cope with trips up to 47 miles away from the distribution center in Muhanga.

The autonomous drones, or Zips, can actually cover 93 miles and carry up to 3.3lb of blood on each trip. Engineers from Boeing, Google, Lockheed Martin and more were involved in the design of the drone that is purpose-built for the task at hand.

The actual system is exceptionally simple. Workers at the distribution center receive a text message and can then load the drone, before sending it on is way with the co-ordinates installed. It’s advanced order picking and when we receive home deliveries of our lightweight Amazon products then it will work in a similar fashion.

UPS has joined forces with Zipline and the Rwandan government to make this happen and this pilot scheme should pave the way for more delivery services. The ultimate goal is to have a blood transfusion and essential medical supplies just 15 minutes away from Rwanda’s entire population of 11 million people, so clearly there is a long way to go.

Blood falls from the sky

The life saving parcel is dropped with a parachute attached, shortly after the drone sends a text message to the recipients so they can look to the skies.

Poostpartum hemorrhaging is a serious health risk for women in Rwanda and has caused a number of deaths. As the road network is patchy and the country is known as the land of 1000 hills, drones are the ideal way to deliver blood quickly to the people that need it.

“Traversing that terrain on the ground to get to a rural village can take hours, even though it’s a very short distance,” said Will Hetzler, COO of Zipline. “Hospitals in remote areas can really struggle to get a reliable supply of blood, which is where we come in.”

The four-hour road journey can be done in just 15 minutes with the drone system and the women’s life simply depends on getting the blood quickly.

“Drones can overcome a poor road network and we simply need to let our imaginations soar,” said Dr Margaret Chen, Director General of the World Health Organization.

This is a drone delivery system with a heart and we hope we see more stories like this. We don’t mind it when Project X drops burritos on students, but we know that this technology is capable of so much more. Drones can save millions of lives around the world and change the way we look at blood supplies, disaster relief supplies and more.

We’d like to see the humanitarian side of this cutting edge tech far more than we do right now.

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