U.S.-based drone tech firm Zipline is flying coronavirus test samples collected from patients in rural areas of Ghana to laboratories in its major cities.
The company with headquarters in San Francisco operates in Africa but has not yet launched services in the U.S.
Zipline uses airborne drones to make on-demand, emergency deliveries of hundreds of high priority products including vaccines, blood products, and life-saving medications in Rwanda, Tanzania, and Ghana.
Its drone delivery expertise will be used to transport COVID-19 test samples from remote areas to Ghana’s two largest cities, Accra and Kumasi, CNBC reports.
Here’s how it works: Health workers place orders by text message and receive their deliveries in 30 minutes on average, according to ITWebAfrica. Zipline’s drones take off and land from its distribution centers, requiring no special infrastructure at the clinics in rural areas.
Each drone can carry an estimated 3.85 pounds of cargo and travel at around 68 miles per hour.
Zipline, which has operated in Rwanda since 2016, expects to operate this new daily service for the duration of the Ghanaian government’s COVID-19 response efforts, Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo said.
Ghana has poor roads in certain parts of the country and access to remote areas can be problematic.
The aging and pothole-ridden roads in Accra and other parts of the country increase the cost of road transport and makes it risky to transport goods as the items can be damaged, according to GraphicOnline.
Many trips in remote rural areas are made via footpaths or tracks that are in poor condition, especially when it rains. These poor roads often restrict access to medical facilities for those in rural areas, the Association for Safe International Road Travel reports.
The new drone delivery service allows Ghanaian health authorities to overcome transportation challenges and respond to the spread of the virus in Ghana’s most remote areas.
Ghana has reported 1,550 coronavirus cases and 11 deaths from the disease.
Before the coronavirus outbreak, the California-based tech firm planned to launch U.S. drone delivery operations in the fall of 2020. Now the company is working with the Federal Aviation Administration to get the necessary approvals to operate commercially, Wired reports.
Zipline’s emergency efforts in the U.S. are expected to focus on the distribution of test kits and personal protective equipment, as well as coronavirus vaccines if they become available, according to a statement from the company.
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The drone firm first began delivering blood and medicine in Rwanda in 2016 in partnership with the government. In May 2019, Zipline launched that same service in Ghana. It also operates in Tanzania and India.
In 2019, Zipline raised $190 million in funding which valued the company at more than $1 billion.