A couple of weeks ago we had the opportunity to watch one of the most innovative and original shows of all time: the opening ceremony for the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. This year’s ceremony was, in my opinion, from another world and a fantastic opportunity for companies to display the latest technologies in connectivity and digital media on a global stage.
As seen in previous shows like the Super Bowl, this year’s opening ceremony debuted a legion of drones flying in sync — 1218 to be precise — swooping and swirling along a prearranged path, making multiple Olympic themes animations, such as the Olympics rings and a rotating snowboarder. The show was put on by Intel’s Shooting Star platform and despite the controversial use of pre-recorded videos due to harsh climate conditions, it broke a Guinness World Record flight along the way.
This spectacle made me think about the endless list of amazing things that drones can do and the power we have to leverage emerging technologies and benefit society. Over the last few years, drones have become essential to many businesses and governmental organisations due to their ability to sense, manipulate and collect data in remote and hazardous areas with improved safety and efficiency.
According to IDC, worldwide spending on robotics and drones solutions will total slightly over $103 billion in 2018. By 2021, it will more than double to over $218 billion.
In the healthcare industry for instance, drones offer a magnificent opportunity to access distant places and challenging environments. Medical drones can be used by governmental organisations, emergency services and blood banks to offer acute care, vaccination programs and supply provision.
Since medical drones don’t require a landing space and can drop packages in isolated areas without a crew, the demand is high. This is driving continuous research and development aiming to improve speed and accuracy.
To give you an example, Rwanda, the small East African nation, decided to explore this technology further in order to improve citizens life expectancy . In 2016, the Rwandan government partnered with Zipline, a Silicon Valley company that delivers essential medical products by drones, to deliver medicines and blood units to remote locations. The ingenious drone delivery service known as ‘Uber for blood’ has reduced the delivery time of life-saving medicine to remote regions, from 4 hours to an average of 30 minutes.
Never before have patients in the country received blood so quickly and efficiently.
Only last year, Zipline and the Rwandan government managed to deliver more than 5,500 units of bloods among 12 hospitals located in rural areas, having a meaningful impact in the Rwandan community, reducing maternal deaths and high incidences of malaria among children.
Rwanda is not the only east African country deploying drones to transport medical supplies and blood units in a more efficient and rapid way. The government of Tanzania is planning to partner with Zipline too, claiming to build the world’s largest drone delivery network. While in Malawi, UNICEF is using drones to drop blood sample cards which will then be droned back to bigger cities and be tested for HIV.
The implications in the healthcare industry in east African countries and developing countries all over the world will be huge. Having companies like Zipline scaling up to larger projects will give disempowered societies the opportunity to provide wider access to medical supplies, diagnostics and blood units to communities located in remote locations with limited access to hospitals and health centres.
The Uber for blood project recently placed the African country under international spotlight . The World Economic Forum (WEF) announced at its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, that Rwanda will be the first country to adopt performance-based regulations for all drones. Regulators will specify safety standards drones have to meet, whilst taking into account their mission and operations. This approach opens the door for further expansion in the drone space — removing some of regulatory hurdles which can restrict companies.
So some food for thought, inspired by discussion at the WEF:
1. It has set an example of how drones can be used in the healthcare industry, by expanding the access to medical supplies and saving lives.
2. It has demonstrated how companies and governments can work together to enhance the power of technology to benefit our society.
3. It has demonstrated that if technology is used correctly it has the ability to reach out to those who live in disadvantageous conditions in order to provide a better way of living.
4. Drones aren’t only relevant in developed economies or for huge corporations. Having the WEF involved, opens up the space for developing economies as well as start-ups to enter into this lucrative and empowering industry.
From improving internet access; providing humanitarian access to isolated areas; monitoring crop health; or applying fertilizers and watering the fields. Medical supply chains have been one of the first examples of drone delivery explored by governments and NGOs, but the opportunities are endless.
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