Commercial Drone Services Tested in Africa
BY Alan Perlman28 May 2016
New commercial drone services will be launched this July in Rwanda, where vaccines and other medical supplies will be delivered by drones. This project comes through a partnership between Zipline and UPS, and with the support of Gavi. Zipline is a startup based in California, and is backed by $19 million of venture capital, with some very prominent tech-industry investors.
Keller Rinuado, co-founder of Zipline, learned of the need for medical transport infrastructure on a trip to Tanzania where he observed that communication technology was already in-place for medical alerts, but that they system was missing the critical component of transportation. Working with Will Hetzler and Keenan Wyrobek, the Zipline team began to gather investments, while also engineering and testing special drones uniquely designed for the task at hand.
UPS joined the partnership as a means to share and expand their expertise in logistics, while contributing to an incredible humanitarian venture. As part of the deal, The UPS Foundation is contributing a $800,000 grant to Gavi, an international non-profit focused on increasing access to vaccines for children in some of the world’s poorest countries.
This is not your average humanitarian pursuit, however. Rinuado has indicated that the market for such urgent medical care services is worth upward of $1 billion making it a savvy business decision that also saves lives. Zipline has plans to expand beyond into other African nations, but the choice to start in Rwanda was obvious. While many of the world’s countries have outdated air traffic control systems, especially in regards to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), the Rwandan government has demonstrated a strong commitment to the future of commercial drone use and development of the appropriate infrastructure and regulatory framework for commercial-use UAV.
Meanwhile, other companies are looking to test similar ventures in several African nations. Rocketmine, Flying Donkey, Afrotech, and Dronamics are all entering the African UAV service industry with focuses ranging from cargo delivery to civil engineering.