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As is evident from our previous blog posts, we really like talking about drones. But this story might just be our favourite use of the flying technology.

Last month in Rwanda, a woman started to bleed out after a C-section birth. The doctors did everything they could, but they were unable to stop the bleeding. Having already used the 2 units of matching blood they had, they were in a tight spot.

Doctors could have called the national blood bank in Kigali, but it would take up to 4 hours to order and receive the delivery from 25 miles away.

Fortunately, a distribution centre near Kigali had implemented drones to deliver hospital supplies. Clinic workers were able to load up several drones with the necessary supplies and within 45 minutes they were able to dispatch 7 units of red blood cells, 4 units of plasma and 2 units of platelets.

It took each drone 15 minutes to reach the hospital, and they dropped off their materials at a designated landing zone. Doctors were able to collect the supplies and stabilise the 24-year-old.

Severe trauma / haemorrhaging after childbirth is a frequent cause of maternal death in Africa.


The start-up, Zipline, was introduced in October, and has become standard practice in Rwanda. Now it’s expanding into Tanzania, where the government hope to make 2,000 daily deliveries from 4 distribution centres.

The first distribution centre is being set up in Tanzania’s capital early next year, with 3 more centres to follow. The goal is to create a network that will serve all 55 million citizens. Each centre will have 30 drones and make up to 500 deliveries a day to the 5,640 public health facilities. They will carry blood, emergency vaccines, HIV medicine, and other medical supplies.

Of the approximate 1,400 deliveries Zipline has made in Rwanda, a quarter of those have been emergencies. The drones are also used to deliver medical supplies to areas that vehicles have difficulty navigating, or during rainy seasons when roads are turned to mud.


75% of Rwanda’s roads are unpaved & frequently washed out during the rainy season.


The drones favour fixed wings over the more common quadcopters. Zipline founder and CEO Keller Rinaudo says the quadcopters “only operate in perfect weather, and tend to fall out of the sky unpredictably,” and “people do not wait for perfect weather to get sick or to have medical emergencies, so if we’re going to build something that’s useful, it has to be able to operate all the time.”


Zipline’s Drone Spec:

6-foot wingspan

70 mph cruise speed

Can carry 3 pounds of cargo

Battery life of 100 miles


How does it work?

A doctor or nurse requests supplies via text message.

A drone operator retrieves the supplies from a central warehouse, stuffs them into a

padded cardboard box, and places the delivery in the belly of a drone.

A fresh battery is clipped to the nose.

The flight plan is uploaded from an iPad, and you’re ready to fly.

A pneumatic catapult launches the drone & twin electric motors keep it there as it flies unmanned to the GPS coordinates.

The drone cruises at around 60 mph at an altitude of 300 to 400 feet

As it reaches its destination, the drone descends to 45 feet and releases its payload.

Sophisticated software is used to account for factors such as wind speed, allowing the drone to hit a target about the size of four parking spaces.


Not only is it incredible that Zipline is using drones to save lives, but they also train local engineers, health workers and flight operators. We are huge fans!



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