Medical and Disaster Relief Drones

Medical and Disaster Relief Drones

How are drones used for emergency medical response and disaster relief?

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) or Electric Autonomous Aircraft (EAA) are commonly known as drones. Humanitarian and commercial applications successfully use drones to assist in emergency response.

Medical Drones deliver packages at room temperature and cold chain (between 2-8ºC). Supplies delivered vary from whole blood, fresh and frozen plasma to snake antivenom, anti-rabies and yellow fever. Also, the vaccines for the 6 childhood killer diseases diphtheria, measles & rubella, tuberculosis, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough) and polio.


Disaster Relief Drones provide area survey applications. This can range from photographs, video and 3D models of a disaster area whether natural or human-made. These disasters range from earthquakes, floods, tsunami, hurricane, mudslides, avalanches drought, fire and traffic accidents. Additionally, relief drones have commercial applications in agricultural land surveys to monitor crop health and environmental impact.

Let’s look at three companies that use drones to provide logistical assistance for medical and emergency relief.

Zipline – Medical Drones

Zipline was founded in 2014, South San Francisco, California. In 2016 they started working in Rwanda, delivering medicines and medical supplies. This is the world’s first commercial drone delivery service, making hundreds of deliveries per day from each distribution centre. Flying at cruising speed 100 km/h (60 mph) and carrying a load of up 1.75 kg (3.85 lb). The launch centre can service a radius of 80 km (50 miles) in about 30 minutes.

GPS and other sensors guide the Zipline. Therefore, the drone flies itself to the relevant location. It drops the supplies off by parachute in the area that it’s needed. Hospital staff can safely retrieve the package and the drone heads back to the base. The landing of this drone is a cross between an aircraft carrier and a bouncy castle. A wire that tracks the drone as it comes in catches the tail of the drone. This enables a drone flying at 100 km/h to decelerate to 0 km/h in less than half a second.

Reduce Waste

Healthcare supply battles constantly between access and waste. Access requires that every medical centre is fully stocked, providing patients with the supplies the hospital may need. However, cold chain medical supplies have short life spans, therefore produce a lot of expensive waste. When emergencies occur, we depend on logistics to deliver the orders of medical supplies needed. Zipline and the Rwandan government solved this problem by centralising supplies of the medical products and medicines. Therefore, hospitals stock less blood in-house even though the use of blood products has increased substantially. As a result, zero units of blood have expired at the Rwanda hospitals supplied by the launch centre.

In 2019, Zipline started operations in Ghana. The video below shows the delivery procedure at the Zipline centre in Omenako, Ghana.


Wingcopter – Medical and Disaster Relief Drones

Wingcopter is made of glass and carbon fibre composite. It is capable of top speeds of 240km/h (150 mph), speeds of 150 km/h (93 miles) in fixed-wing mode and cruising speed of 100 km/h (62 miles). These drones can cover distances of up to 120 km (75 miles), an altitude of 5 km (3.1 miles) and can operate even in harsh weather, strong winds of up to 71 km/h (44 mph). The range of the drone depends on the mass of the payload. A maximum payload of 6kg has a range of 45km (28 miles), however, at 120km the drone cannot accommodate a load.

The Wingcopter’s core innovation is a tilt-rotor mechanism which enables the drone to take off and land from a vertical position. The long-distance flight is achieved by tilting the rotors to enable horizontal travel.

Wingcopter won the Emergency Delivery and Safety categories in the 2020 African Drone Forum, Lake Kivu Challenge Flying Competition, sponsored by the World Bank.

WeRobotics – Disaster Relief Drones

WeRobotics is a not-for-profit organisation that invests and trains local experts to leverage robotics tackling local problems sustainably. Using terrestrial, maritime and aerial robotics, WeRobotics collaborates with local partners via their global network Flying Labs. Flying Labs comprises affiliate and regional hubs which build on local expertise for local solutions. These hubs in Africa, Asia and Latin America share knowledge, build local skills, training each other and collaborate on projects.

The goal is to close the digital divide by building up local markets, creating new jobs in robotic technology and data products. Therefore, accelerate the positive impact of local aid, health, development and environmental projects and empower local people to be experts in their field.

In conclusion, these companies use drones to save time, reduce waste, monitor environmental changes and improve the data and knowledge of rural areas. Most importantly, bridging the knowledge gap by training local people how to manage emerging technologies.

Feature Image:

Medical Relief Drones Lake Kivu
African Drone Forum. Image: Rwanda 2020 | Lake Kivu Challenge - World Bank/African Drone Forum.


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