WHAT ARE DRONES?
Drones are small remotely-controlled flying machines. They do not carry people, but can carry supplies. They also usually have cameras mounted on them. These allow the person flying them to see what they are doing, and also allow for photos to be taken looking down from above.
HOW DO THEY WORK?
Drones are very lightweight aircrafts. They can vary in size, from something that fits in the palm of your hand to something closer to a very small helicopter. The person flying the drone will do so from the ground, using a remote control. Some drones are able to fly on autopilot. This means they use GPS (a navigation system) to guide them to their destination without a human controller.
WHO CAN THEY HELP?
For people living in isolated areas, getting access to healthcare supplies can be difficult. Drones can reach these places more easily and more quickly than other methods of delivery.
HOW ARE THEY USED?
Companies such as Zipline, which has a branch based in Rwanda, run a drone service for health workers and hospitals in remote areas. These workers can order the supplies they need by sending a text message describing their order. The required items are packed up and loaded on to a drone. This is then launched and flown to the location of the person who sent in the order. Once delivery has been made, the drone will then fly back to the distribution centre.
WHY IS THIS BETTER THAN OTHER METHODS OF DELIVERY?
It can take a while for vehicles to reach people in remote locations. This can cause problems in emergency situations, where getting supplies to the patient quickly is crucial. Planes and helicopters are faster, but they are an expensive solution. In comparison, drones are cheaper than planes and helicopters, and faster than cars.
HOW CAN THIS TECHNOLOGY BE USED IN THE FUTURE?
The use of drones could improve access to vital healthcare supplies. Already, Zipline alone has helped transport over 7000 units of blood to patients around Rwanda. If more countries were able to open drone distribution centres, it would be possible to provide many more people with access to life-saving supplies. This could significantly improve medical access in rural areas.