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Medical delivery drones may soon be helping rural Americans




A drone company specializing in medical deliveries and producing amazing results in Rwanda could soon be bringing their services to the United States.

Two weeks ago we covered how the company, called Zipline, had built a delivery drone capable of traveling at speeds of up to 80 miles per hour.

The company was founded in 2014 with financial backing from Google and others and have thus far completed more than 4000 deliveries of lifesaving blood-packs and medical supplies to geographically isolated areas of Rwanda. Their network of drones and delivery centers enables isolated medical facilities in the poor African nation to receive supplies in just half an hour whereas formerly it may have taken days to arrive.

How their delivery system works:

A Zipline package after delivery.

In order to get the supplies – a medical staff member in a remote area texts Zipline, specifying the what they need. Zipline’s distribution center staff prepare and pack supplies (up to 4 lbs / 1.8 kg worth with current crafts) into the drone and the mission is launched. Once the craft is guided to its destination, the package is dropped by parachute to within a few meters of an agreed drop-off point. The whole process from ordering to delivery occurs within 30 minutes.

After a year and a half of successful operations in Rwanda, the company is now awaiting Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) approval to test their system in various American states.

The US has strict regulations governing the flight of drones (such as a rule prohibiting a drone leaving a pilot’s line of sight) meaning that gaining permission to launch medical deliveries requires jumping over a few regulatory hurdles.

How could this system help rural America?

Fast Company reports that in recent years many rural areas of the United States have seen their local hospital closing down. As such, people living in these spots often look to smaller medical centers to get treatment. Supplies like blood and plasma products can perish quickly if not stored in the right conditions, quick deliveries are essential. In giant rural states with small, dispersed populations, deliveries by car or truck are not always practical or economical. Drones therefore represents a cost-effective way of making sure these small medical centers are kept fully-stocked with the supplies they need.

Zipline is currently awaiting Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) approval for the go-ahead. If all goes according to plan, they will begin talks with various states and start flying before year’s end. The states involved in the trials have not all been revealed but one that is known is gambling-Mecca Nevada.

We will watch this story with interest.

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