Silicon Valley Drone Startup Expanding Blood Deliveries In Africa With UK Funding

By Dana Sanchez Published: December 31, 2016, 12:01 am
Silicon Valley drone startup expandingA technician with Silicon Valley startup Zipline launches a drone in Rwanda in October. Photo: Getty

Silicon Valley drone startup Zipline began delivering supplies to medical centers across Rwanda in October, working in partnership with the Rwandan government. Now Zipline is expanding to Tanzania thanks to U.K. funding.

Malawi and Madagascar have also tested drones to reduce the time it takes to transport life-saving supplies and information in areas where roads are impassable or transport infrastructure is nonexistent.

In March, UNICEF-Malawi did its first drone test flight. Malawi has one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world, especially among babies and children, Voice of America reported. A drone delivered materials from a community health center to a hospital in Lilongwe.

In Madagascar, another U.S. company, Vayu, has completed drone flights to deliver blood and stool samples from rural villages with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development, CBS News reported.

From BBC. Story by Leo Kelion

The U.K. government is to fund a trial of drone-based deliveries of blood and other medical supplies in Tanzania.

The goal is to radically reduce the amount of time it takes to send stock to health clinics in the African nation by road or other means.

The scheme involves Zipline, a Silicon Valley startup that began running a similar service in Rwanda in October.

Experts praised that initiative but cautioned that “cargo drones” are still of limited use to humanitarian bodies.

The U.K.’s Department for International Development has not said how much money will be invested in the Tanzanian effort or for how long.

It also announced plans to fund tests of drones in Nepal to map areas of the country prone to damage from extreme weather, so help prepare for future crises.

“This innovative, modern approach ensures we are achieving the best results for the world’s poorest people and delivering value for money for British taxpayers,” said the International Development Secretary Priti Patel.

Zipline’s drones – called Zips – are small fixed-wing aircraft that are fired from a catapult and follow a pre-programmed path using GPS location data.

In theory, they can fly up to about 180 miles before running out of power, although Zipline tries to keep round trips to about half that distance.

When they reach their destinations they release their loads via paper parachutes. Afterwards, they regain altitude and return to base.

The aircraft fly below 500 feet to avoid the airspace used by passenger planes.

Tanzania, Rwanda and Malawi – which uses a different type of drone for medical deliveries – all take a permissive approach to unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) regulations, helping make them attractive places for such trials.

Earlier in the year, Tanzania also authorized the use of drones in its Tarangire National Park as part of an effort to deter animal poachers.

The U.K. estimates that flying blood and medical supplies by drone from out of Tanzania’s capital, Dodoma, could save $58,000 a year compared to sending them by car or motorcycle.

But a spokeswoman suggested that the time savings were more crucial.

The Ifakara Health Institute – which specializes in treatments for malaria, HIV, tuberculosis as well as neonatal health issues – will be the local partner.

The Humanitarian UAV Network and other non-profits recently surveyed the use of drones to carry out human welfare tasks.

The study highlighted Zipline’s work, noting the firm was capable of setting up a new drones launch hub in as little as 24 hours, making it suitable for rapid response and longer-term projects.

But the study also noted that humanitarian cargoes are often measured in tonnes rather than kilograms, and need to be transported across longer distances than a Zip can manage.

“Given these current trade-offs relative to manned aviation, the specific cases in which cargo drones can currently add value are particularly narrow in the context of the universe of needs that humanitarian organisations typically face,” it said.

And it added that more research was needed to properly evaluate whether existing schemes were as reliable as claimed.

“Organisations considering the use of cargo drones need statistics on flights performed, hours logged, failure rates and other performance measures.”

Read more at BBC.

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