Nyamabuye, Rwanda —With funding from Google, Stanford, and venture capital giants Sequoia and Andreessen Horowitz, seven-year-old Zipline has already revolutionized health care in Rwanda. With just two delivery centers in the African nation, Zipline’s proprietary drones deliver critical healthcare supplies—fast—to anyone, anywhere in the country. 

During launch, the drone goes from 0–100 kilometers/hour in about half a second. Once it’s in the air, it flies fully autonomously until it reaches the recipient’s “mailbox,” Zipline’s term for an area on the ground equivalent to the size of two parking spaces. At this point, packages are dropped, from a height of about 30 feet. All of this usually happens within 30 minutes of the order being placed. On top of that, it costs less money than Rwanda’s normal delivery medium: motorcycles. 

When C.E.O. Keller Rinaudo discussed Zipline’s operations on CNBC’s Squawk Box, anchor Andrew Ross Sorkin asked a question probably on the minds of many: “What happens when it’s windy?” Rinaudo assured viewers that Zipline’s innovative technology is equipped to handle adverse conditions.

This would, seemingly, need to be the case, given that Rinaudo envisions bigger and broader drone routes. After he “[makes] Rwanda the first country in the world to have universal access to health care”—thanks in part to support from the Rwandan government—he plans to introduce his automated health care delivery to the U.S.A. 

“The Rwandan government has, obviously, given you a path to do this,” Ross Sorkin reiterated, bringing up that “the U.S. is a lot more complicated” as he questioned whether Zipline could truly foresee integration into the landscape of American health care. 

But Rinaudo has already clocked progress on this front. “We’re actually partnering with the Department of Transportation in the U.S. and the [Federal Aviation Administration],” he said. “And we’re looking at Rwanda as a role model and saying, ‘How do we bring this here?’”

As early as the first quarter of 2019, Zipline will perform its first American commercial drone flights, in North Carolina, where they chose to start “from an air traffic control perspective.”

Rinaudo, a Harvard grad, spent nine months as a self-described “professional rock climber” before founding Zipline, which aims “to put each human on the planet within a 15–30 minute delivery of any essential medical product they need, no matter where they live.”

Why This Matters

“Critical-access hospitals in the U.S. are closing at a record rate, and the U.S. has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the developed world,” Rinaudo said, emphasizing that the plight of rural health care calls for new approaches globally. “A lot of people assume that rural health care is only a challenge in developing countries, but that’s actually not the case.”

About the Author:

Ben helps spark innovative healthcare thinking as Associate Director of Innovation. Previously on the editorial staff of Vanity Fair, he brings experience in engaging, rigorous storytelling to the healthcare world. Ben’s goals are to move brands to rethink their roles, own their evolving narratives, and maintain vital and vigorous consumer relationships.