A toddler goes to a local clinic in Rwanda with a high fever. She is diagnosed with malaria, and it is infecting her red blood cells. As her symptoms persist, a blood transfusion becomes the only treatment option. She needs O+, and the nearest blood bank is 3 hours away—or, it once was, when these emergency trips were made by car. Now, the girl’s blood transfusion is on the way via a Zipline drone, dropped from the air to the clinic below via a parachute in a bright red cardboard container. In minutes the girl receives treatment. She survives.
This real-life use case is at the heart of Zipline’s mission: using drone technology to connect essential medical products with people in need in the developing world.
“I sincerely believe we are within reach of a future where essential supplies will be available anywhere they are needed almost instantly,”
“Getting patients access to treatment in time was frequently cost-prohibitive or logistically impossible,” Will Hetzler, co-founder of Zipline International, said. That’s where Zipline comes in, not only providing much-needed emergency supplies, but helping complement existing on-the-ground health supply chains.
Here’s how it works: Via text, a healthcare worker orders supplies from a Zipline center, sometimes the scarce or rarely-used medical necessities not widely stocked in the average clinic. The supplies are packed and sent off in one of Zipline’s non-piloted red and white drones, arriving in 30 minutes or less.
Zipline partners with the government in Rwanda and the other countries where it operates, particularly where the public sector is the main provider for health services, Hetzler said. (Plans are underway to expand to Tanzania, and Zipline is participating in a Federal Aviation Administration pilot program in the United States.)
“In the U.S. people still talk about this technology like it’s science fiction, whereas in Rwanda it’s a part of everyday life,” Hetzler said.
Zipline became the first drone delivery system operating at a national scale when it launched in Rwanda in 2016—now, getting supplies air-dropped from Zipline has become a part of everyday life for health workers. Hetzler sees drone technology like Zipline’s continuing to help the world become more connected, much like “the Internet did for the free flow of information.”
“I sincerely believe we are within reach of a future where essential supplies will be available anywhere they are needed almost instantly,” Hetzler said.
Watch Will Hetzler, co-founder of Zipline International, and a panel of drone hobbyists, regulators, and entrepreneurs, at our October 2018 GE Aviation Lecture.