Drones are becoming an increasing part of everyday life, with uses ranging from children’s toys to production equipment and even million-dollar military applications. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) are definitely a trending topic in the modern tech sector. Many of this year’s tech expos have highlighted new innovations in drone technology, especially with drones that will be used in delivery systems that are the wave of the future. Companies like Amazon are looking to incorporate drones in their delivery system through Amazon Prime Air. This system, touting deliveries in thirty minutes or less, will (hopefully) be implemented in the near future, and as this form of package transportation takes off (no pun intended) it will help reduce delivery time. It may also help save lives.
Meet Zip, a small UAV from the Silicon Valley robotics company Zipline that can deliver critical medical supplies. Development of medical drones like this is essential to the more than two billion people who cannot receive the level of medical attention that a first world country has to offer. The biggest hurdle for infrastructure in these still-developing countries is the extreme terrain that many must deal with, including unreliable road infrastructure that creates unreliable access of medical vehicles, especially during extreme weather conditions. Annually, this lack of medical help leads to the deaths of nearly three million children ages five and under and the roughly 150,000 mothers who die of complications during pregnancy. Imagine how much of a difference the newly developed Zip could make in solving these problems.
Field testing of Zip has already started in remote areas of Rwanda, a country also known as “the land of a thousand hills.” As the nickname implies, the terrain in Rwanda is very hilly, creating a difficult commute for most land vehicles. The Rwandan government has agreed to this partnership because of the growing need for medical supplies in the countries remote villages. Started in July of this year, the Rwandan government is planning on using this new delivery system to place their 11 million within a 30 minutes of medical.
The key to Zipline’s success comes from the simplicity of their idea and their short-but-sweet motto: “No roads, no problem.” To access Zip, medical personnel need only dial into with a text similar to a 911 call. A short time later, a Zipline health professional will have equipped the Zip with the medical supplies needed for the situation at hand. From there it will be launched into action, and once in the sky, Zip will accelerate to 100 km/h and be free to move without the hassle of traffic on inadequate roads. Upon arrival to the desired location, the Zip hovers drops its cargo and then heads back.
Should the in-flight weather conditions be less than desirable, Zip is also built to handle the challenge. Heavy rain? No problem. Heavy wind? Also no problem, which is great since Rwanda is known to have a heavy rain season and that will truly put the Zip to the test. Cold storage compartments will also be implemented in Zip for temperature sensitive medical supplies like blood for transfusions.
The Rwandan government isn’t the only one backing Zipline either; since 2014, Zipline has been backed by a growing number of capital investors for a total of over $18 million, including UPS, Google Ventures, Yahoo! Founder Jerry Yang, and Stanford University, among others. And now that these partnerships are public, several other countries have reached out to Zipline to combat similar challenges. Zipline plans to make Zip available to the rest of the African continent toward the end of 2016, and from there, who knows how far they’ll get or what impact they’ll have on the industry. One thing is for certain, though: the company is taking baby steps, but moving forward at the speed of flight.
By Cole Conway
Photo Credit: Screenshot of video from Zipline