Life-saving blood conveyed by drone ‘Mr Delivery’

At the World Economic Forum on Africa in Durban, South Africa from 3-5 May 2017. Craig Hean, MD of JLL Sub-Saharan Africa was privileged to share a boardroom table discussion with the co-founder of a robotics and drone startup that is blazing a trail (literally) in Rwanda.

May 28, 2017

I’ve recently penned my thoughts on the need to equip our African youth with the kind of next-generation skills that will develop solutions to our continent’s challenges that could then be shared with the world.

Well, Keller Rinaudo, CEO of Zipline, is putting this philosophy into practice in one of the poorest countries in Africa. His company is responsible for the world’s first commercial drone delivery service operating on a national scale. And he is using it to deliver blood to some of the hardest-to-reach places in Africa.

Rwanda has a notoriously poor road network, exacerbated by inaccessible terrain and gaps in infrastructure. This makes a rural medical emergency even more desperate. For instance, blood loss after birth is one of the leading causes of death in Rwanda for pregnant women. Because blood requires strict storage regulations, it is the norm for doctors in outlying areas to travel an 8-hour round trip to the capital, Kigali to collect the urgent blood, often returning too late to be effective.

Zipline’s fixed wing drones can do the same job in 12 minutes – from launch at the Kigali depot to the drop zone at the remote clinic’s front door! These drones are delivering critical medical supplies to locations often unreachable by car or bike. The central distribution centre can provide blood to 7 million people in a 100km radius. By using technology, the company is saving lives and solving a significant healthcare challenge in Africa (and other countries around the world).

The deal is a private/public partnership with the Rwandan Government, fully supported by President Paul Kagame. Rinaudo’s team of aeronautical engineers have trained up the local workforce so that the enterprise is 90% Rwandan-engineered and employed. Almost incredibly, one of the least developed countries in the world is right now leading from the front in commercial drone application.

The service is implemented via an Uber-like app and has been embraced by the nation’s medical fraternity as convenient and effective (and affordable). The cost equates to around the same as the motorbike deliveries used previously and the Rwandan Ministry of Health pays Zipline for the deliveries.

The launch site in Kigali attracts plenty of attention (particularly amongst the local children) and on visiting the project, Kagame commented that the nation’s next generation of engineers were in that audience. A wonderful example of the right sentiment paving the way to transform how Africa works.

Zipline will soon to expand it service to include other medical products, live vaccines and anti-venom treatments, and will be rolled out in other countries.

Watch the full story here

So, what’s the connection between drones and real estate, you may well ask? Apart from highlighting the importance of a tech-centric approach to provide efficient solutions in Africa, it also challenges the mindset of real estate logistics. What does a future supply chain look like if drones can partially solve logistical challenges on the continent? Excellent food for thought.