Rwandan Startup Uses Drones to Deliver Blood
Tom Spendlove posted on November 30, 2017 | 827 views

Keller Rinaudo’s goal is to challenge the way we think about Africa and technology. He says that most people think Africa can best be helped by giving aid and donations, and that advanced technologies can’t be born on the African continent. In his TED Talk How we’re using drones to deliver blood and save lives, Rinaudo details the work he’s done in Africa to move technology forward in several paths.

Zipline, Rinaudo’s startup company, uses autonomous aircraft to send medical supplies to health centers on demand. Zipline worked with the Rwandan Ministry of Health and started a program in 2016 that delivers blood with drones in Rwanda, on demand.

Donated blood has a short shelf life and complicated storate requirements, and demand is difficult to predict. Rwanda and Zipline developed a system where most blood is stored centrally outside of Kigali and can be provided to patients in thirty minutes on average.

When blood is needed medical personnel send a message to the distribution center, blood is pulled from the supply and scanned in for tracking. The blood is then packed into the drones and moves to its destination at speeds up to 100 kilometers per hour. An air traffic controller directs the drone into the medical facility, the drone drops to a height of around 30 feet and drops the package with a paper parachute. Rinaudo says that doctors get a text saying their blood will arrive in one minute, likening the process to a ride sharing app.

This talk was recorded in August 2017 and at that time 400 deliveries were in the books using the Zipline system. Keller hopes that Africa can be the disruptive force that helps to improve maternal health worldwide. He presents a surprising fact that 44 percent of Kenyan GDP flows through M-Pesa, their mobile payment platform. The Tanzanian Ministry of Health is also bringing the Zipline system online to reach 10 million people in remote areas.

Rinaudo’s talk is full of great illustrations of the methods that we can use engineering to help solve problems. The simple but effective solutions of blood delivery methods definitely fit into my broad definition of engineering ‘making the world a better place.’ There are several technology advances in terms of infrastructure that can be applied around the world to truly show that Africa is leading the curve. The method used to “land” the drones is one of the most interesting parts of the system and positioned at the end of this talk, showing a line of people cheering on the landing.

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