In October 2014 I wrote about how drones could be a leapfrog technology. A year later, plans were unveiled for the world’s first drone port, to be build in Rwanda. A year on again, and Rwanda clocks up another milestone: the world’s first regular commercial drone flights are underway.
When I last looked in on this story, the Rwandan government was drawing up a legal framework for drone flights, and a commercial partner was needed to take on the task of regular flights. Both of those things are now in place. The Rwandan government has done its legislative homework, and tasked an American company called Zipline to operate the drones. No word yet on Norman Foster’s drone port, but I see the concept for it was tested earlier this year at the Venice Biennale, so presumably it’s on its way.
The new drone service delivers blood and plasma on demand to remote hospitals in Western Rwanda. It costs about the same as delivering it by road, but is much quicker. A journey that would take four hours by car during the rainy season takes just 15 minutes by air, a potentially life-saving difference. For safety and efficiency, the small unmanned planes drop the supplies by parachute and return without landing.
I love the fact that while Amazon and DHL get all the headlines for their drone delivery ambitions, they’ve been beaten to it by Rwanda.