The world’s first commercial drone delivery service operates from a hill almost smack dab in the middle of Rwanda. A barbed wire fence surrounds a field, a white tent, and a control tower. From here, Zipline, a San Francisco-based robotics company, delivers blood by drone to almost half of all Rwanda’s blood transfusion centers. Orders are made online, by text, phone, or WhatsApp. A technician sits in a refrigerated room where the blood—specifically red blood cells, platelets, plasma, and cryoprecipitate—are stored, communicating with his team over Slack. An order has come in for a hospital about two hours away by car. The drone delivers the package in 20 minutes.
“To have a proven model here first in Rwanda is amazing,” says Maggie Jim, who manages global operations and communications for Zipline. She says the company is talking with other governments in Africa, including Tanzania’s, as well as in Latin America about launching drones services there.