UPS partnership to pioneer medical-drone deliveries in Rwanda [VIDEO]

UPS announced a partnership with California-based robotics company Zipline and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to launch a vaccine and medicine delivery program to rural clinics in Rwanda.

As part of a US$800,000 UPS Foundation grant, the Rwandan government will begin using Zipline drones to deliver blood to 21 transfusing facilities located throughout the country’s hard-to-access western region with a network of delivery hubs. Clinics can notify staff at the delivery hub and, within moments, a drone-loaded with the requested supply can be dispatched along a pre-programmed route.

Zipline says a delivery hub can fulfill upwards of 100 deliveries per day with its lightweight 10-kilogram drones, which are made from Kevlar and composite fibers.  The drones can carry a maximum payload of up to 1.5 kilograms, with a maximum range of 120 kilometers.

Initially, the program will focus almost exclusively on blood deliveries. However, the hope is to expand the program to include deliveries of vaccines and essential medicines for the treatment of diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis — in what could become the new model for humanitarian deliveries in isolated areas.

Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, was excited at the future potential of drone-deliveries, adding “it is a totally different way of delivering vaccines to remote communities, and we are extremely interested to learn if UAVs can provide a safe, effective way to make vaccines available for some of the hardest-to-reach children.”

For a video of the Zipline drone in action, see:

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