Zipline is the name given to a drone with an odd mission: delivering medicine to remote and inaccessible regions throughout the world. Its first destination: Rwanda.
Zipline's drones, called "Zip", look like flying tadpoles. They are made from carbon fibre and Kevlar, and they have a large wingspan (almost 2.5 m) but they only weigh 10 kg. They are able to carry 1.3 kilos of medicine or blood, and have a range of 120 kilometres. Zipline is equipped with a GPS system and uses the country's cellular network in order to move around with accuracy.
Launched using a catapult system, they can travel a distance of around 70 km in 30 minutes while flying at an altitude of 100 metres. They then fly closer to the ground to drop their package whose fall is cushioned by a disposable paper parachute. The drones then return to base once their mission has been accomplished, without needing to land, so there is no need for a landing strip. An efficient means of delivering to hospitals, and in particular to small clinics scattered throughout the country, which do not always have the right drug at the right time and which are difficult to deliver to in the land of a thousand hills and unpaved roads, which are often flooded during the rainy season.
The Californian start-up Zipline has partnered with the Rwandan government to test its medical product delivery drones. The experiment began in July with the distribution of blood products, which have a very short life and must be kept at certain temperatures. Fifteen of Zipline's ultra-fast drones should be making up to 150 deliveries per day to 21 medical centres scattered around half of the country from their base located in western Rwanda.