Keenan Wyrobek presents his revolutionary drone system at Design Indaba Festival 2019

The world's only drone delivery service gets life-saving medical supplies and blood to the most remote and difficult to reach places on Earth.

From the Series

Access to life-saving health medical supplies and blood are hampered by what is known as the last-mile problem: the inability to deliver the much-needed medicine from a city to rural or remote locations due to lack of adequate transportation, communication or supply chain infrastructure. As a result, people in need of care don’t receive the medicine they need.

Countries in West Africa are at the forefront of addressing this problem by implementing Zipline, a drone delivery service built and operated by a California-based automated logistics company of the same name. The company's founder Keenan Wyrobek joined a list of amazing speakers on day 1 of Design Indaba Conference 2019, which is taking place in Cape Town until 1 March.

Like the speakers he is set to join over the three-day event, Wyrobek used design thinking to enhance the lives of others and in his case, save lives. Zipline has made great strides in Rwanda. The team who runs the initiative on the ground joined Wyrobek via live stream to talk the audience through the process. 

Fitted into a drone dubbed a Zip, medical supplies are able to reach hospitals in distant, rural and hard to reach areas. So far, the intiative has decreased mortality rates in a number of Rwandan hospitals. 

The programme was met with a standing ovation from the Design Indaba audience. 

The on-demand service was recognised in 2017'sINDEX: Design to improve life, the biggest design award in the world. Zipline was chosen as one of the five INDEX winners out of 1401 entries from 85 countries all over the world.

It starts with a text message. Health professionals at clinics or hospitals call, text, or Whatsapp an order to their nearest Zipline distribution centre for the medical products they need. In as little as 15 minutes, the package containing the order is delivered by drone, landing by parachute in a designated area the size of a few parking spaces. Hospitals are then notified via text message and the drone returns to the centre for its next delivery. According to Zipline, the process is faster than any other mode of transport available.

In October of 2016, Zipline and the Government of Rwanda launched the world’s first national drone delivery service to make on-demand emergency blood deliveries to transfusion clinics across the country. As of last year, the company has flown 300 000 kilometers, delivering 7 000 units of blood over 4 000 flights, approximately a third of which have been in emergency life-saving situations.

Zipline in Rwanda

Zipline also plans to expand into different parts of Africa and South America. Last year, Tanzania announced it will launch the world’s largest national drone delivery network with the first of its four distribution centres located in Dodoma, the country’s capital.

“Millions of people across the world die each year because they can’t get the medicine they need when they need it,” said Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo. “It’s a problem in both developed and developing countries. But it’s a problem we can help solve with on-demand drone delivery. And African nations are showing the world how it’s done.”

Each of the four distribution centres will be equipped with up to 30 drones and is capable of making up to 500 on-demand delivery flights a day. The drones can carry 1.5 kilos of cargo, cruising at 110 kilometers an hour, and have a round trip range of 160 kilometers.

Zipline’s commercial partnerships with Rwanda and Tanzania are expected to save thousands of lives over the next several years.

While expanding reach, the company also innovates with the product space. Last year, Zipline unveiled the fastest commercial delivery drone on earth. Its newest generation of autonomous aircraft flies farther, faster and with more cargo than was ever before possible— even in high altitude, heavy wind, or rain.

The new plane is capable of flying at a top speed of 128 kilometres per hour, and a cruising speed of 101 kilometres per hour —21 kilometres per hour faster than the previous generation of aircraft — with a round trip range of 160 kilometres, carrying up to 1.75 kilos of cargo. The new plane is capable of flying four times faster than the average quadcopter drone and can serve an area 200 times as large.

“Billions of people on earth lack access to critical medicine,” said Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo. “In East Africa, Zipline’s drones bring people the medicine they need, when they need it in a way that reduces waste, cost and inventory while increasing access and saving lives. We’ve been hard at work to improve our technology and are ready to help save lives in America and around the world.”

More on the Design Indaba Festival

Watch the Talk with Keenan Wyrobek