KIGALI, Rwanda: October 14, 2016. The Rwandan government has begun using drones to make up to 150 emergency deliveries per day of life-saving blood to 21 transfusing facilities in the western half of the country.
The 15 drones - called 'Zips' - are built and operated by Zipline, a California-based robotics company, and are designed to deliver vaccines when roads become washed out during Rwanda's lengthy rainy season.
While the service initially will focus on blood, an international partnership between Zipline, UPS and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, will soon expand the types of medicines that can be delivered.
Rwanda plans to expand Zipline's drone delivery service to the eastern half of the country in early 2017, putting almost 11 million people within reach of instant delivery of lifesaving drugs. Each Zip can fly up to 150 km with a 1.5 kg payload.
The commercial partnership between Rwanda and Zipline, with additional support of US$1.1 million from the UPS Foundation, is expected to save thousands of lives over the next three years.
"The inability to deliver life saving medicines to the people who need them the most causes millions of preventable deaths each year around the world. Zipline will help solve that problem once and for all," said CEO Keller Rinaudo. "We've built an instant delivery system for the world, allowing medicine to be delivered on-demand and at low-cost, anywhere."
UPS shipped the complete Zipline system from California to Rwanda to ensure construction of the drone company's distribution center in the country's Muhanga region was completed in just four weeks.
"One of the most important focus areas for The UPS Foundation is to spark public-private partnerships that create powerful scale and drive demonstrable impact in support of global humanitarian aid and relief," said president Eduardo Martinez.
"The shared belief in the ability to save lives through applied innovation, combined with Rwanda's vision, is now not only poised to advance humanitarian logistics – and logistics as we know it – around the world, but also to save lives," he added.
Next year Zipline plans to expand drone delivery services to other countries in Africa and in the U.S., where it will serve Native American Indian reservations in Maryland, Nevada, and Washington State.
The company is supported by Sequoia Capital, Google Ventures, SV Angel, Subtraction Capital, Yahoo founder Jerry Yang, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and Stanford University.