Drones are saving lives in the East African country of Rwanda by delivering blood to hospitals at a fraction of the usual shipping times.
While some people might view drones as nothing more than an expensive hobby, the unmanned aerial vehicle technology certainly has applications beyond spectacles such as the Drone Racing League.
Drones Enable 'Uber For Blood' In Rwanda
Zipline, a robotics company from Silicon Valley, and Rwanda's health ministry have entered a partnership that has been saving lives in the country using drones.
The drone delivery service, known as "Uber for Blood," has delivered over 5,500 units of blood over the past year, with most shipments made necessary by life-threatening situations. Zipline is operating from a base in eastern Rwanda, from where it delivers blood to 12 regional hospitals. Each hospital caters to around half a million people.
Using drones to deliver blood has slashed the time it takes for shipments to reach the remote parts of Rwanda from about four hours to an average of just 30 minutes.
Since drones have taken flight to for blood deliveries in Rwanda, there has been a reduction in cases of maternal deaths, 25 percent of which are caused by blood loss while giving birth. The response against malaria-induced anemia, common among children, has also been improved.
With the drone delivery system, hospitals are also able to store lesser amounts of blood, which translates to less waste. Blood quickly spoils, rendering them unsafe to use if kept by hospitals too long.
The drones travel at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour, with the system alerting hospital staff if the delivery is near the specified drop-off point. The drone then releases the package with a parachute, allowing the hospital staff to collect the supplies as the drone flies back to base.
"Some of the biggest, most powerful technology companies in the world are still trying to figure out how to do this. But east Africa is showing them all the way," said Zipline COE and cofounder Keller Rinaudo. "The work in Rwanda has shown the world what's possible when you make a national commitment to expand healthcare access with drones and help save lives."
Other Applications For Drones
The list of medical applications for drones also includes carrying defibrillators to provide first aid to victims of cardiac arrest. The usage was proposed by researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.
Beyond medical applications, drones have also been used for video purposes with the $75,000 Flying Eye as the first broadcast quality, live streaming virtual reality drone. NASA is even planning to use drones to explore Mars, in a project named Mars Electric Flyer.