Medical care is a global problem — billions of people lack access to vital medical supplies and products. For countries like the U.S., delays in deliveries could cause significant implications to the people who need them the most. However, for people in developing countries, medical products sometimes don’t even come.
Distance is the main driving factor that prevents low to middle-income regions to receive medical care, products, and supplies — all because they’re too far and too difficult to access by land for agencies to supply them.
In recent years, innovations have been developed to allow central medical products sent out to far-flung locations or for people who need them through the use of drones. Zipline, specifically, has been venturing with this idea in Rwanda.
Zipline, who primarily started with selling its drones in Silicon Valley for hobbyists, discovered that their drones could function far more than by just being able to take beautiful scenic shots. Zipline saw that drones could be the solution to the distance problem that hampers medical supplies from being delivered to hard-to-reach locations.
“There is a growing feeling around the world that technology is not benefitting the vast majority of people,” said Zipline chief executive Keller Rinaudo in a statement.
“The old conventional wisdom has been that building a successful technology company requires exploiting people’s personal information or hijacking their attention. Zipline wants to establish a new model for success in Silicon Valley by showing the world that the right technology company with the right mission and the best team can help improve the lives of every person on the planet.”
Back in 2016, Zipline started the idea of a nation-wide delivery system for on-demand medical supplies like blood, vaccines, and other medications. The company saw that Rwanda was the ideal country to test out the idea. In return, Rwanda was open with the intention of allowing technology to mitigate problems with medical deliveries in the country.
Rwanda is a mountainous country that has over 3,000 miles of road, but only high-density cities or 25% of which are paved. In farther locations, roads even get washed away during the rainy season that makes delivering supplies an even difficult task. Hospitals struggle to procure blood and vaccines, especially during emergencies.
Through Zipline, remote hospitals and medical practitioners can notify the drone company via text message and expect a fast delivery in minutes. Since its launch, Zipline drones have own over 300,000 miles on more than 10,000 flights, delivering thousands of units of blood.
Although it is true that the cost of a single Zipline drone is far more costly than a roundtrip of land deliveries, the ease and efficiency of delivering perishable goods like blood in an emergency outweigh the cost.
Just recently, Zipline launched its service to neighboring Ghana at a much larger scale. Their drone-delivery network will serve 2,000 hospitals and clinics covering 12 million people — once all four of its distribution centers become fully functional.
Zipline said in a press release:The revolutionary new service will use drones to make on-demand, emergency deliveries of 148 different vaccines, blood products, and life-saving medications. The service will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from 4 distribution centers—each equipped with 30 drones—and deliver to 2,000 health facilities serving 12 million people across the country. Together, all four distribution centers will make up to 600 on-demand delivery flights a day on behalf of the Government of Ghana. Each Zipline distribution center has the capacity to make up to 500 flights per day.
Today, Zipline is estimated at a valuation of over $1 billion and $190 million in new financing to support their cause of making medical supplies a possibility. Notably, it will enable Zipline to expand its lifesaving service across Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Americas and position the company to serve 700 million people in the next five years.
The new investors include some of the most respected investors in the world, including Sequoia Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, Yahoo founder Jerry Yang, and Stanford University, to name a few.
The company’s drones have a range of 160 kilometers, a cruising speed of 110 kilometers per hour, and can carry 1.75 kilograms of cargo as to where a pack of blood usually weighs around 0.5 kilograms.