1Drones Will Soon Be Dropping Medicines to Save Lives in Rwanda
2UPS for the Logistics, Zipline for the Deliveries
Ed Martinez (left), CEO of the UPS Foundation, which has allocated $800,000 to the drone project, and Zipline founder and CEO Keller Rinaudo explain the goals of the drone medicine operation. UPS already has the ecosystem in place to move time-sensitive items such as blood and vaccines in cold transit. Zipline’s engineers build the drones and the takeoff and recovery systems; create the delivery routes; update GPS and other software; and run the delivery operations on-location as needed. Gavi CEO Dr. Seth Berkley attended this conference remotely from Geneva.
3A Common Problem All Over Africa
Because of very few paved roadways, most of the giant continent of Africa is inaccessible by land vehicles at various times of the year. Frequent monsoons and hurricanes leave roads looking like this. Thus, delivery of life-saving medicines and vaccines must be done by air—trucks, autos and motorcycles can never accomplish the job that needs to be done.
4Strategic Locations Reach Most of Rwanda
Using 20 Zipline launching locations, called nests, the project can reach about 11 million of the 12 million Rwandans. A typical Zipline drone mission lasts less than 30 minutes from launch to recovery. The vehicle will guide itself to the drop location, circle it once or twice to get an accurate reading on the wind, drop the payload within a space about the size of three parking spaces and then head immediately back to its nest, or base.
5Can’t See, but It Knows Exactly Where It’s Going
A Zipline drone can fly for about 2.5 hours on its two batteries, has a range of about 120 km and can reach speeds of 100 km/hr, or 60 mph. It flies between 100 feet and 400 feet high and can barely be heard as it moves overhead. If flying in a conflicted area, the drones are very difficult to shoot down because they are such a small, fast target, Rinaudo said.
6Launch, Recovery Sites All Fit Into Standard Shipping Containers
7Drone Takes Shape in the Shop
8A Small Box That Can Save Someone’s Life
A Zipline staff member demonstrates how the payload, including a small parachute, is packed into the drone vehicle. Testing for better parachutes is an ongoing pursuit by the team; they need to be inexpensive, recyclable and able to deploy effectively. “Even if a chute doesn’t open in time on the drop, the payload is packaged carefully so that it can survive even a hard landing,” Rinaudo said.
9Zipline Team Writes Virtually All Its Own Software
Zipline software team member Jeremy Schwartz explains the development process: Each of the red and white boxes contains all the same hardware and software as the actual drones, and they are tested as if they are on an actual mission. Team members track them in testing on a special iPad app they’ve written using Google Earth and other components. In fact, virtually all the software in the entire project was coded from scratch; the team started with a set of open-source and other components but found it inadequate for their needs.
10Ready for a Launch
11And Away She Goes
13Just the Start of a Worldwide Drone Program
The Rwandan project is expected to be only Phase 1 of a global network of drones that will be used to deliver precious medicines and vaccines to previously inaccessible parts of the world.