Delivering medical deliveries by drone has become almost routine in Rwanda since the California startup Zipline arrived in October.
Now, Zipline is expanding into neighboring Tanzania, establishing the world’s largest national drone delivery service. The Tanzanian government wants to make as many as 2,000 daily deliveries from four distribution centers serving an area roughly the size of Texas and Louisiana.
Zipline has performed about 1,400 deliveries in Rwanda, about a quarter of them in emergencies. Its drones have clocked 60,000 , delivering blood to areas ground vehicles can’t reach quickly, or at all during the rainy season that turns roads to mud.
For the new service, Zipline plans to fly upgraded versions of its fixed-wing drones, which have a 6-foot wingspan and can cruise at 70 mph. Each can carry 3 pounds of cargo (one unit of blood weighs roughly 1.2 pounds), and the batteries can make a round trip of 100 miles. Folded wax paper parachutes and cardboard cargo bays make the drones both durable and cheap to operate and repair. “The new vehicle is highly modular," says Rinaudo. "If a sensor is giving weird readings, it’s super fast to replace that."
Tanzania's first distribution center is slated for Dodoma, the capital, and will be up and running early next year. Three more will follow initially, with an eventual plan to create a network to serve the nation's 55 million citizens. That’s a huge expansion over the operation in Rwanda, a much smaller country, where the drones currently reach around half of the population of 12 million.1 Each center will run a fleet of 30 drones, enough for 500 deliveries daily. In addition to blood, they’ll carry emergency vaccines, HIV medications, and supplies like IV tubes, to 5,640 public health facilities.
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