Urgent Supplies Through the Air

Charles Choi | Inside Unmanned Systems | August 31, 2017

Drones can do so much more than take photos and inspect cell phone towers. They can ferry critical supplies to hard-to-reach areas and drop off life-saving packages to disaster survivors. One company, Zipline International in San Francisco, is deploying unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to drop off lifesaving packages of blood in Rwanda—and is the world’s first national drone delivery service. Another company, Windhorse Aerospace in Wells, England, is developing a UAS intentionally designed for a one-way trip. The aircraft is made of combustible or even edible materials that can be taken apart by disaster survivors after it lands and used for fires or meals.

Zipline noted that more than 2 billion people lack adequate access to vital medical supplies because of challenging terrain and gaps in infrastructure. The company aims to overcome this problem with its fixed-wing, twin-engine UAS, called “Zips,” to fly over potential obstacles such as traffic jams, muddy roads and collapsed bridges and deliver medical supplies via parachutes to hospitals and clinics in Rwanda.

“Everything we do revolves around delivering medical products from where the paved roads end in these countries to where people need them,” said Keenan Wyrobek, co-founder and head of product and engineering at Zipline. Time is often of the essence with such deliveries. Not only do medical supplies such as blood quickly expire without refrigeration but the difference between a patient living and dying can be a matter of hours... Both Wyrobek and Zipline co-founder Keller Rinaudo have backgrounds not just in robotics, but also in health, biology and wellness...