Zipline,a US-based company that operates the world’s only drone delivery system for urgent medicines such as blood and vaccine is set to unveil a drone assembling plant in Rwanda.
Zipline launched operations in Muhanga district, Southern Rwanda, about two years ago as the world's first commercial regular drone delivery service on agreement that it will be paid by the Ministry of Health on per delivery arrangement.
Last week, a Cabinet meeting approved the agreement between the Government and Zipline for the delivery of the medical products via drones.
During the post-Cabinet meeting news conference, the Health Minister, Dr Diane Gashumba, said that the Government had extended Zipline’s deal with a renewable 3-year contract.
Gashumba also revealed that Zipline was due to establish a drone assembling and maintenance plant in the country.
This was confirmed to The New Times by Israel Bimpe, Zipline’s Head of National Implementation.
“Yes that's true (Zipline is set to build an assembling plant in Rwanda),” Bimpe said.
He added, “Zipline actually has been assembling certain components here in Rwanda, batteries, especially.”
According to Minister Gashumba, drones have been delivering urgent medicines, mainly blood to 19 hospitals.
However, she said, plans are underway to include basic pharmaceuticals on the list of urgent medicines that can be delivered by drones.
Gashumba also revealed that plans were underway to increase Zipline’s geographical reach in the country and allow them serve all public hospitals and health centres.
Bimpe said that the proposed plan will be made possible with the establishment of the second drone port, which will be located in Kayonza District, Eastern Province.
“We had been delivering blood products to transfusing facilities but we will now be delivering medical products, and serve facilities from two distribution centres, one in Muhanga and the other in Kayonza,” he told The New Times.
The new drone port in Kayonza will operate about 30 drones—which is the same number of drones as those servicing Muhanga distribution centre, Bimpe said.
“Kayonza facility was constructed this year in anticipation to expand our services. It is yet to be inaugurated, it should be launched soon.”
Zipline currently makes between 20 and 30 deliveries a day.
As of April, 2018, Zipline drones had made over 4,000 deliveries in Rwanda covering over 300,000km and delivering over 7,000 units of blood, according to Keller Rinaudo, the firm’s chief executive.
“Zipline is excited to expand operations in Rwanda and bring all 12 million citizens within range of our lifesaving, medical drone delivery service. The Rwanda government is making history and showing the world what’s possible. And we’re honoured to be a part of that work,” Bimpe added.
Drone blood delivery to 19 transfusing facilities has significantly reduced mortality and life threating conditions, especially in remote Rwanda.
Under normal circumstances, the drone is able to deliver blood products in maximum 50 minutes to a place it would have taken over 4 hours for a car to reach.
The firm introduced a new drone model earlier this year, which has a top speed of about 128km per hour. This is also said to have improved the efficiency of local deliveries and helped the first venture into new markets.
However, the drone technology has also faced incidents, with some of them unable to reach their final destination.
Bimpe said the challenges were being addressed.
“We have designed the drone to be fault tolerant, for example, it has two motors, two propellers, two control surfaces, etc. and if one fails the others keep the drone flying,” he said, adding; “We have also equipped the drone with a safety parachute that allows it to land very gently, if for any reason, it's unable to complete its mission and return to our distribution centre.”