Africa leading in medical drones services

Drones are improving the healthcare system in many underdeveloped countries, but why they have not reached the United States (U.S.) yet?


Zipline drone in Rwanda.

During October 2018, Zipline (a company that assembles drones in California) launched in Rwanda, Africa the first worldwide medical drone system. This system uses drones to carry blood supplies to medical clinics across the country, benefiting patients in need of blood products (especially women with hemorrhage during the childbirth). Today, several countries among the African continent seek to partner with Zipline to improve their healthcare services. Drones can deliver medical supplies to unreachable areas in a faster and more efficient way. In Rwanda, Zipline drones travel to distant clinics that don´t have specific blood products and who wouldn´t be able to get them otherwise.

Drones in Europe

In the European continent, Switzerland is the leading country in this disruptive technology. Matternet, a Silicon Valley-based company, was the first company authorized to operate drones logistic in Switzerland. The purpose of drone usage is similar to the one in Rwanda. If a Swiss hospital needs a specific type of blood, the lab technician will send the blood sample with a drone and the blood will be delivered afterward. The Swiss post is also doing a partnership with Matternet, seeking to deliver mail by drones in a cheaper and faster way.

Drones in the United States

Nevertheless, the U.S. (one of the most developed countries in the world) hasn´t introduced medical drones yet. Airspace in the U.S. is more loaded with airplanes and helicopters than in Africa; this increases the chance of having dangerous aerial collisions. Additionally, buildings are taller in the U.S, which increases the difficulty of flying drones in big cities. Finally, regulations of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) impede medical drones to operate in the U.S. because they prohibit drones from flying past its pilot visual horizon line. This regulation is a pitfall in the medical drone functional system because their “beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS)” feature allows them to reach more places. However, in 2019, the University of Maryland innovated American technology by delivering a kidney for transplantation purposes with a drone. Likewise, Nevada is experimenting with drones that deliver defibrillators.

This disruptive technology is not only changing healthcare. Other companies like Amazon and Google seem to be interested in using drones to improve delivery and communication systems as well. The introduction of drones would help companies to diminish the cost and delivery time. Americans want to follow the path of other countries (like Rwanda and Switzerland) in this innovative method. However, the change will not be possible unless the FAA modifies aerial regulations.

By: Marìa Alejandra Aguilar