In the last couple of years, drones have emerged as a very promising tool in the effort to protect Africa's wildlife, and now they are set to come to the aid of the continent's human population as well. The Government of Rwanda is implementing a drone delivery program that will see flying robots carry medical supplies, such as blood bags, to rural areas in need.
The prospect of drone delivery has garnered its fair share of publicity in developed countries, with Amazon and Google, along with startups like Flirtey all working to deploy commercial services in spite of tight government regulations. But in Africa, where paved roads and infrastructure to move cargo by land aren't so widely available, it is a different proposition altogether.
Just as mobile phones arrived to connect the disjointed landscape lacking in landline infrastructure in all kinds of new ways, some imagine that drones can have the same revolutionary impact.
Rwanda is already planning to construct a Droneport, as a pilot phase for a bolder scheme to have drones carry urgent supplies from a central hub to rural areas around the country. Meanwhile, a non-profit called La Fondation Bundi is working to establish a network of drones carrying 20-kg (44-lb) loads around Kenya by 2020.
The latest initiative sees the Rwandan government enlisting the services of an American robotics company called Zipline, with the aim of carrying blood and urgent medical supplies to rural areas. It will start with the construction of three drone ports in Muhanga District, with test flights slated to begin in August this year. Details are scarce on the technical capabilities of the drones, but Zipline says it will be cheaper than making the same deliveries by motorbike.