Drones deliver blood to remote hospitals

Around the world, more than 2-billion people lack adequate access to essential medical products, often due to challenging terrain and gaps in infrastructure – and, because of this, about 2,9-million children under age five die every year.

Meanwhile, up to 150 000 pregnancy-related deaths could be avoided each year if mothers had reliable access to safe blood.

A Silicon Valley start-up is addressing the problem using drones to deliver medical supplies, and is starting off by dropping needed blood in Rwanda. Typically, the rural Rwandan outposts served by Zipline are only reached a few times per year for resupply due largely to weather-ravaged road conditions, says Rinaudo. Zipline plans to have up to 150 flights per day, each one paid for by the Rwandan government.

Zip is a small robot airplane designed for a high level of safety, using many of the same approaches as commercial airliners. It can carry vaccines, medicine, or blood. A fleet of Zips is able to provide for a population of millions.

A health worker can place an order by text message and, within minutes, a Zip is prepared and launched into the sky.

With a top speed of 63 mph, Zip arrives faster than any other mode of transport, and no pilot is required. The planes can carry a payload of up to 3.5 pounds and have a roundtrip range of 75 miles, or about triple that of the average quadcopter. Zip planes also can handle inclement weather much the way a traditional aircraft might, while quadcopters don't fare as well flying in stormy skies.

Most intriguingly, Zip planes drop their parachute-carrying payloads into predetermined landing zones, eliminating the need to land at the delivery site. Onboard computers compensate for wind to ensure accurate drops.

The planes are launched via a high-powered catapult. The pre-programmed flights are monitored on the ground via tablets. The medical products are then dropped off, landing gently and accurately at the health facility in an open area the size of a few parking spaces.

Zipline founder Keller Rinaudo says he can envision demand for his service in Europe and the U.S., stringent aircraft regulations in those parts of the world makes those markets more difficult to navigate for drone delivery services.

Imagine the potential during an Ebola outbreak, or for the delivery of the Zika vaccine when developed.

Adapted from an article by ITonline.com and USAtoday.com