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Blood Drones

Updated: Jan 25, 2022

A few months ago my girlfriend almost got me a drone for my birthday and honestly I am glad that she didn’t. Besides taking cool aerial shots of things, I don’t know what else I would have done with it.

Enter Zipline, a company that uses drones to deliver blood in Rwanda....

The problem:

How to maintain emergency blood supplies in a challenging environment, and transport it to hospitals quickly and efficiently.

The Idea:

Zipline uses drones to deliver blood to hospitals and clinics in Kigali, Rwanda within 15 - 30 minutes from the time the blood is requested. The blood is stored in fridges at a base outside the capital. When a call comes in, required blood is packaged in a parachute, and loaded onto a drone, which is then catapulted into the air. Once it has taken off, the drone autonomously guides itself to the hospital using cellphone network technology.

In total, the operation has delivered 2,400 units of blood since its inception in October 2016.

The Value:

Diving deeper into the concept and the technology behind it, we see that there is a lot of value being derived from this process.

1. It saves lives.

I read an article in the Business Day Newspaper about a 24-year-old mother who suffered from a postpartum haemorrhage (involves a lot of blood loss), this condition can be deadly if there is no immediate access to blood. Using drone technology for medical purposes saved this woman’s life; the blood she needed was delivered to the hospital within 30 minutes and she survived.

2. Pioneering use of technology.

I was always told that you need money to make money, and the same principle applies with ideas. The pioneers set the precedent for innovative ways of tackling issues. Zipline has done this by using drones in conjunction with other airborne technology.

3. Governance and Policy

Although our African institutions and governance are not always our strong points, in this case the policy backing it needed to become fully functional was already in place. This is noteworthy, and a sign that there is progress.

4. It redefines what is possible.

Drone pilots are a rare and expensive group of people. In order to cost effectively tackle this potential challenge Zipline decided to make use of exxisiting cellphone towers to guide the drones. Back in 2012, there were nearly 900,000,000 cellphones in use on the African continent, meaning this technology was well established. They repurposed an existing technology to achieve their goal, thereby redefining what is possible.

The value of technology is derived from the value that it adds. It’s about what you do with it. In my hands a drone would have gotten me a few hundred likes on Instagram, but in the hands of innovative minds, the drones have saved more than an few hundred lives.

Read more about the work Zipline is doing

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