President Paul Kagame has said that the launch of medical supplies delivery using remotely piloted aircraft, popularly known as drones, should inspire more innovation and entrepreneurship in commercially viable technologies in Rwanda.
The President made the remarks while officiating at the launch of the drones that will deliver medical supplies, starting with blood, in Muhanga District.
The project, championed by Zipline Inc, a California-based robotics firm, in partnership with the government and other partners, is a first in the world.
The President said the project ought to inspire innovation and entrepreneurship, which would, in turn, see technology become more relevant and meaningful in addressing challenges citizens face in different fields.
“I hope that this project will inspire more innovation and entrepreneurship in commercially viable technologies in the country. The aviation sector generally is becoming important for Rwanda; from drones to passenger jets, and we are investing in aeronautical technologies,” he said.
In the process, he said, government planned to continue using technology to improve lives and at the same time ensure that Rwandans benefit and are involved.
“We want to do more, we want to do it faster and do it in a way Rwandans are going be part of it to make it work for them, learn and be trained. Technology becomes relevant and meaningful when it works for people and addresses challenges they face in different fields,” Kagame said.
‘Positive attitude against all odds’
Noting that this is not Rwanda’s first attempt to embrace and adopt technology and innovation, the President said the attitude had made it possible for the country to overcome great odds in the last 22 years and brought optimism on what more can be achieved by working together with partners.
Kagame observed that the use of drones to transport medical supplies across the country would enable Rwanda bypass challenges of existing modes of transport and could be rolled out to other sectors beyond healthcare.
“The cutting edge technology will enable us to bypass the challenges of existing modes of transport but even, more importantly, it demonstrates the possibility of transforming business models to many industries beyond healthcare,” Kagame said.
Recounting the path taken since inception of the project to the launch, he said that it requires one to start with the right mindset and work at having the best.
He noted that, going forward, the Government will be investing more in the project after considering the potential it holds.
“In this case we are convinced of the value of this technology and the potential it holds for our future. This is why we are pleased to invest in it and we are definitely going to invest more as quickly as we can,” he said.
Following the launch, the drones will now make up to 150 on-demand deliveries a day to the 21 transfusing facilities in the western part of Rwanda.
Each drone has the ability to fly up to 150 kilometres per trip withstanding rain and wind with a load of 1.5 kilogrammes of blood delivering supplies in about 30 minutes.
Keller Rinaudo, chief executive and co-founder of Zipline Inc., said the development had been made possible largely due to the dynamism and ambition of the government in its attempt to improve service delivery to citizens.
He said, once fully operationalised, the project will serve about five to six million Rwandans who require emergency medical supplies.
Rinaudo said the success of the launch was also an indication of the changes in the paradigm shift whereby a country like Rwanda was pioneering such a technology and creating demand across the world.
At the moment, the project has two drones and was expecting six more over the weekend. The firm will deliver 15 drones by the end of the year.
The project has also attracted international partners, including UPS, a global logistics firm, and Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, a public-private global health partnership committed to increasing access to immunisation in poor countries.
UPS Foundation put in about USD1.1m through a grant to support the initial launch of the initiative to explore using drones to transform the way life-saving medicines, vaccines and blood are delivered across the world.