Project Details


Drones overcome hilly terrain to deliver medical supplies

Project URL:
Project Twitter: @zipline

  • Health
  • Safety & Security

Rwanda is known as the ‘land of a thousand hills’. The country’s terrain makes it incredibly difficult to transport medical resources – a journey of only a few miles can take several hours, and the rainy season makes already tough roads all but impassable. “At best, it can take four to six hours to get supplies through,” says the technology minister, Jean Philbert Nsengimana. For mothers experiencing bleeding during or after birth, blood loss can be quick and, without rapid intervention, fatal. 

More than two billion people lack adequate access to essential medical products worldwide, and 150,000 pregnancy-related deaths could be avoided each year if mothers had reliable sources of safe blood.

It’s a problem that a California-based start-up called Zipline is attempting to solve with a fleet of small drones. The two founders, Keller Rinaudo and William Hetzler, were inspired when an aid-worker friend developed a database of people needing urgent blood transfusions in Tanzania, but had no way to transport the blood. 

The system is based on a fleet of 15 box-sized aircraft, each with twin electric motors, GPS receivers and a 3.5-pound payload. The aircraft has a round-trip range of 75 miles – triple that of the average quadcopter used to transport medical supplies – and can race at an impressive 62 miles per hour. When it nears its destination, it drops its parachute-carrying payload and returns to station base, where the battery and SIM card with a pre-planned route are switched for the next mission. 

Zipline has now signed its first contract with the Rwandan government. In its first phase, it plans to make 50 to 150 deliveries of blood a day to 21 transfusing facilities within a 47-mile radius, later adding vaccines and other urgent supplies. Follow the team’s progress at

Image courtesy of Teseum

Last updated: 02nd of August, 2016

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