The Muhanga district in Rwanda will be the site of a pilot project utilising drones to deliver medical packages.
Getting medical supplies to people in need of medical assistance quickly is critical and drone technology offers speedy, direct transport of small-sized medical equipment, blood, medication and more in areas where on-the-ground movement might be hindered by rough terrain, poor infrastructure, lack of vehicle access or traffic. The Rwandan government has been working with American robotics company Zipline Inc on a system that would see unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) deliver healthcare supplies, particularly blood supplies, to rural areas in the country. The current means of transport is motorbike but badly-paved roads and mountainous regions can impede this method of delivery. The project will help deliver medical supplies faster and more cost-effectively than by motorbike.
The project is part of a larger initiative to install a cargo drone network nationwide, with the government partnering with Swiss foundation Redline and architecture firm Foster + Partners to build the world’s first drone airports or ‘droneports’ in Rwanda. The aim is to use drone technology to 'leapfrog' existing methods of improving infrastructure. As part of the first phase of the project, UAVs that can carry packages weighing up to 10kg across distances of 100 metres will be put to use, while UAVs capable of carrying 100kg loads will eventually be included into the fleet. The plan is to turn each droneport into a hub of activity by building an adjacent health clinic, post office and drone manufacturing outlet. The team behind the initiative is particularly focused on ensuring that the network, technology and infrastructure being used for the project is sturdy and can be implemented and maintained cost-effectively in developing regions.
More and more companies are recognising the potential for drones to deliver small cargo packages, particularly medical and disaster relief supplies. US company Matternet has been trialling delivery of medical cargo in Bhutan and Papua New Guinea while Flirtey, a UAV manufacturer in Australia, carried out its first medical supply delivery in the US last year.
Construction of three drone ports is currently in the pipeline in the Muhanga district and test flights are scheduled to begin in August 2016.