US Drone Maker to Fly Medicine in Rwanda

12 May, 2016

An American drone maker is teaming up with United Parcel Service to transport blood and medical supplies in Rwanda.

The California-based company, Zipline International, manufactures drone aircraft. The company says its drones will fly to remote Rwandan medical centers 20 times faster than any truck or motorcycle.

United Parcel Service is providing a grant of $800,000 - plus logistical support – for the project through a donation from the UPS Foundation.

Another partner is GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, an international organization set up to provide vaccines to the world's poorest countries.

Zipline recently announced plans to launch its drone delivery service in July. The company plans to fly the blood and medical supplies to 20 hospitals and health centers across Rwanda, a country of more than 11 million people.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says Africa has the world's highest rate of pregnancy deaths resulting from excessive bleeding. This makes the availability of blood and transfusions very important for women across the continent.

The Rwandan government signed a deal to cooperate with Zipline. The government is promising to pay part of the delivery costs.

The Zipline drone is different from other pilotless aircraft because it does not operate with four propellers on top. The drone is similar to a small robotic airplane with a "fixed-wing" design, similar to commercial airliners.

The drones, weighing about 10 kilograms, are launched into the sky with compressed air. They can travel at speeds of 100 kilometers an hour. Their movement can be followed with the help of Global Positioning System (GPS) equipment.

Each plane can carry up to 1.5 kilograms of materials, usually kept inside a box. The supplies are then dropped from the bottom of the drone and float down to the ground in a parachute.

Each aircraft can travel up to 120 kilometers on a single flight.

The head of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, Seth Berkley, said the method is a totally new way of delivering vaccines to children in remote areas.

If successful in Rwanda, Zipline and its partners plan to expand the drone deliveries to other countries.

Operating the drones in Rwanda will result in tens of thousands of flight hours. This kind of testing is currently not possible in the United States because of restrictions on drone flights.

I'm Bryan Lynn.

Julie Taboh and Faith Lapidus reported this story for VOA. Bryan Lynn adapted the story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

delivery – n. the act of taking something to a person or place

grant – n. an amount of money given by an organization or government

logistical – adj. relating to or involving organization and planning

excessive – adj. more than necessary or normal

transfusion – n. the act of transferring donated blood or other fluid into a person

propeller – n. a mechanical device for powering a plane or boat

compressed – adj. to flatten by pressure into a small space

parachute – n. a piece of equipment usually made of cloth attached to people or things to allow them to fall safely to the ground