The first drone delivery program in the world is delivering blood to clinics

To request for blood, health workers just have to send a text message and a drone will arrive in 30 minutes.

A Zipline delivery drone releases its payload midair during a flight demonstration at an undisclosed location in the San Francisco Bay Area, California, U.S., May 5, 2016. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Blood and plasma will be flown by autonomous drones to clinics in the rural part of Rwanda, where terrible road conditions have made it difficult for time-sensitive delivery of medical supplies to be done.

With the new drone delivery program, those deliveries are now possible.

California-based drone startup Zipline is piloting the program in partnership with the UPS Foundation, the shipping giant's charity wing, and Gavi, a Bill Gates-backed vaccine fund.

The service, which is paid for by the Rwandan government, costs about the same as the motorcycle deliveries the country currently relies on presently. However, Zipline itself is a private company with its top investors being Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and Yahoo founder Jerry Yang.

When the program gets to full capacity, the Rwandan government hopes fly between 50 and 150 drones a day. Those drones will be delivering blood and plasma to 21 different clinics.

To request for blood, health workers just have to send a text message and a drone will arrive in 30 minutes. The drone don't land at their drop-off points, though. Rather, they drop packages via disposable parachutes at a receiving area in the clinic.

UPS helped get the Zipline drones and supplies to Rwanda, and its foundation donated $1.1 million to the project, but it doesn't seem like UPS is involved in much more outside of that.

Zipline is already talking to US policymakers about getting a deal that could let it fly a drone out of line of sight for time-sensitive medical deliveries in rural parts of the US as well as Native American reservations.

Another drone company, Flirtey, already completed an FAA-approved flight last year carrying medical supplies to rural Virgina in the US. Amazon is also extensively testing drone delivery in the UK and Canada.

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