technologyreview.com

A startup called Zipline will use a fleet of long-distance drones to airdrop precious blood and medicines to remote medical facilities across Rwanda. The potentially life-saving project hints at the potential for unmanned aerial vehicles to revolutionize the delivery of some goods. But it also highlights the fact that drone delivery currently makes most sense only in extreme situations.

Working with the Rwandan government, the network will be capable of making 50 to 150 deliveries per day, using a fleet of 15 aircraft, each with twin electric motors and an almost eight-foot wingspan. The unmanned planes will use GPS to navigate, and will airdrop supplies before returning to the landing strip from which
they launched.

“This visionary project in Rwanda has the potential to revolutionize public health, and its life-saving potential is vast,” Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization, said in a statement.

Zipline is also an example of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs looking beyond just building apps and capitalizing on the latest tech trends. “I always think of Peter Thiel, the venture capitalist, who said, ‘They promised us flying cars and all we got was 140 characters,’” Paul Willard, an investor in Zipline, told the Times. “This feels a little bit more like flying cars.”

Good to see Zipline getting some ink. They are building an air force no different than the one operated by FedEx or Flying Tiger. These are small UAVs that are catapult launched and don’t need a runway to retrieve. But you can easily imagine the possibilities of bigger birds carrying bigger loads – perhaps further and faster.

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