Rwanda leads the way in drone technology

Rwanda is soon to become the first country in the world with a commercial drone delivery network. Zipline, a Silicon Valley startup, has forged a partnership with the Rwandan Ministry of Health, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the UPS Foundation to deliver blood and emergency medical supplies to rural health centres in Rwanda. Such deliveries could have a large impact: over 25% of global malaria deaths each year are attributed to a lack of blood available for treatment. Moreover, 100,000 deaths attributed to sickle cell disease each year could be prevented by regular and safe blood transfusions. This airborne medical supply chain has the potential to save thousands, and eventually millions, of lives through its bold and fast action.

Rwanda has a master development plan that has prioritized the use of machines and technology. The country is set to become East Africa’s technology hub—with the potential to lead the continent’s tech scene in the future. Whereas in the US there is a wall of regulation and conflicting rules, Rwanda is appealing to companies because of its reputation for speed and innovation. The public and private sector have partnered to drive the rapid adoption of technology across sectors. For this reason Rwanda will become the first country to have a network of drone airports, or Droneports, that will contribute to the country’s leadership in the fields of technology and innovation.

Not only can drones be used to save lives through the delivery of emergency medicine, but they can also contribute to green energy and environmental sustainability. Mobisol, a German company selling home solar power systems, is planning to begin using drones by the end of the year to deliver solar panels. Chief executive Thomas Gottschalk has said that motorbikes “were not efficient,” and that the system was being designed so the drones could be recharged from customers’ solar systems. “We have a potential recharge centre every three kilometres in Rwanda, which will greatly extend the range” he said, adding that customers would be paid to recharge the drones.

Drones provide an affordable alternative that can complement road-based deliveries and overcome poor transport infrastructure. Just one third of Africans live within two kilometres of a main road. Daunting levels of investment in roads and railways is needed to catch up with the exponential growth in Africa’s population. Drone technology has the potential to help African nations leapfrog ahead in much the same way that mobile technology has overcome many challenges associated with the lack of telephone landlines. Many difficulties faced by insufficient road networks can be solved by advances in drone technology.

As Lord Foster, the lead architect behind the first drone airport, has said, “Rwanda’s challenging geographical and social landscape makes it an ideal test-bed for the Droneport project.” Commercial drone delivery networks can have a massive impact for all of humanity and Rwanda is leading the way.