Articles

The Medical Drone Delivery Pilot

September 18, 2019


This is Rwanda. Nestled between these
plantations, village homes and meandering mountain roads is a patch of land no bigger
than a football field. From here this guy launches
drones that carry blood to doctors racing to save
their patients’ lives. He’s the delivery man of the future and he’s one of the first
people ever to get the job. Now, he’s waiting for the
rest of the world to catch up. (drone engine) (light upbeat music) As technology replaces old jobs, it’s also creating new ones. I’m Aki Ito and I’m here to
show you the jobs of the future. My name is Nizeyimana Abdoul Salam and I’m a drone operator. Abdoul works for a
start-up called Zipline. This is where, catch the
drones, that’s recovery system. And in front of you, this is
where we launch the drones. Cool. Zipline is headquartered in California. But it’s all the way here, west
of Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, that the company’s launched one of the world’s first
drone delivery services. (drone engine) So beautiful. (laughs) Does it ever get old?
No. Yeah. Abdoul and his coworkers are
tackling a deadly problem here. Rwanda is among the poorest
countries in the world. And much of it is connected
by winding, bumpy, dirt roads in the mountains, that get
washed out in the rainy seasons. That’s made it incredibly
difficult for regional hospitals to procure blood in an emergency. Leaving doctors unable to perform many lifesaving operations. The hospital have to procure the car. You have to drive on and
off for three or four hours to Kigali, get blood and then come back. That’s complicated. The coast is clear, (mumbles) and launch the Zipline one three three. When a hospital asks for blood the Zipline team gets moving. If it’s a typical day, a normal day, you grab a package, you
load it in the plane, you get the plane ready for launch. Flush and secure. You launch it. (drone engine) (cheering) And then you wait for the next order. Guided by GPS and other sensors, the drone flies itself to one
of the hospitals it serves. Then it reaches its destination
and drops off its payload. Hospital staff retrieve the supplies and the drone heads back to the base. And then, this happens. It’s kinda like catching a fish. That’s just so complicated,
more than that. (laughs) It’s a little more complicated. {[Abdoul] Yeah. Look at the space in
between here, it’s tiny. It’s really small. Okay, now you can lift it. Wow! It’s incredibly light. Will you hire me now? Yeah. (laughs) Abdoul’s doing pretty well
for himself these days. He’s got a job he loves and
he’s studying for grad school. But all that success today is built from unimaginable tragedy. When he was three, the
Rwandan government stepped up its decades-long assault
on the Tutsi minority, ordering everyone in the Hutu
majority to kill all Tutsis. (eerie music) In just a hundred days 800,000
people were slaughtered by their neighbors and their friends. When the people doing
the genocide showed up my father was the first to step up. He could hear the voice in
the corridor, people talking. Asking where is the rest of the family? Then they killed him and they came in, they found us in this tiny room. And then they basically hit
anyone, everyone with a machete. I have a small, you see that? Yeah. Wow! Despite the head wound, Abdoul survived. His two siblings and his parents didn’t . He ended up at a homeless shelter, then his grandma found
him and took him in. It was hard, I was a
stubborn kid at school and I was a lot of trouble to my grandma. Sometimes I would just quit school. So definitely I think
the first couple years of school was really, really hard. Yeah, you were dealing with a trauma. Yeah and then after that
I found my life again. I was like, okay, if I
get my education right and I use the knowledge I
have to serve the community, then I’m happy with my life. Abdoul studied engineering in college while holding a variety of
repair and maintenance jobs. When Zipline opened its
first distribution center in rural Rwanda, he jumped
at the chance to work on cutting edge drone technology. But his grandma was sad to see him move out of her home in Kigali. And others in his extended family worried he was leaving better
opportunities behind. In Rwanda if you dress well,
you go work with a suit, and you have a big office,
your family will be very happy. They thought you were successful. If you know you may be
paid way less than someone who’s dirty every day, (mumbles) they are true definition
of being successful. Have you ever worn a suit to Zipline? No. (laughs) Eventually, they all came around. This spring, Rwanda commemorated 24 years since the genocide. In those years the
economy’s grown seven-fold. In the bustling city markets,
the crowds of giggling kids, and the smiles of young
mothers in the villages, you sense the optimism everywhere. From Google to Amazon, tech giants around the world are now racing to get their drone delivery
trials off the ground. (drone engine) It’s been exciting for Abdoul to be at the forefront of all that. But would drives him is the impact he’s making closer to home. I feel like I got another chance to live. So what I want to use that chance for? Having a lot of beers, buying cars. What should I use that second chance for? And I think using it for
serving the community and make an impact on other people’s life was what makes sense for me. (soft music)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *