Medical Drones Could Beat Amazon to the Skies, with Harvard Help

Hiawatha Bray | The Boston Globe | March 9, 2016

The less you’ve got, the less you’ve got to lose. Which is why cargo delivery drones may become popular in Africa long before they catch on over here. Jonathan Ledgard thinks it’ll happen. The former chief Africa correspondent of the news magazine The Economist is coming to Boston on Thursday to lay out his plan to build a cargo network called Redline. Developed with help from students at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, and backed by the government of Switzerland, Redline will use drones to deliver medical supplies to remote parts of Rwanda. It has already raised $8 million.

Flying robot“I think the first route will be up and running next year,” Ledgard told me. Rwanda’s a long way from Silicon Valley. Best known for a terrible spate of tribal violence in 1994, it’s a poor nation, with average per capita income of less than $600 per year. But automated drones don’t need the costly infrastructure that Americans take for granted. Just give them a place to take off and land, and tell them where to go.

Ledgard notes that while the US Federal Aviation Administration must be cautious about admittting drones into America’s already crowded air lanes, “the African sky is pretty open.” That makes it simpler for the Rwandan government to draw up the necessary regulations; a first draft should be completed soon, according to a comment last month from the country’s minister of information technology. So cargo drones could be serving Rwandans long before gets permission to fly packages to our doorsteps...