When we talk about the 4th industrial revolution, we need to consider that the rise of exponential technologies will open new, unimaginable possibilities for what can be achieved, in what cost and time framework. Here is a good example: Zipline, a robotics company based in California that has just begun negotiating directly with African countries’ governments to deliver medical supplies with drones.

Traditional healthcare services have an important problem. More than two billion people lack adequate access to essential medical products, often due to challenging terrain and gaps in infrastructure. Because of this, over 2.9 million children under age five die every year. And up to 150,000 pregnancy-related deaths could be avoided each year if mothers had reliable access to safe blood. What was the proper response up to now? Nothing more than waiting until the development of the required infrastructure.

Now imagine Rwanda. In this east African country 325 pregnant women per 100,000 die each year, often from postpartum hemorrhage. That’s somewhere about around 15 times the rate in the U.S., according to the WHO. Many of these deaths are preventable if blood was available in time . But that’s a tough task a country with inadequate road network, and many remote, rural areas, especially taking into consideration that the blood has to be delivered  with a certain strict temperature.

Here is a radical solution. Zipline operates a fleet of Zips. “Zip is a small robot airplane designed for a high level of safety, using many of the same approaches as commercial airliners. It can carry vaccines, medicine, or blood. A fleet of Zips is able to provide for a population of millions. No roads, no problem”. Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo has built “an instant delivery system for the world, allowing medicines and other products to be delivered on-demand and at low cost, anywhere,” as he recently explained.

I have also written about drones delivering contraceptives in Ghana. But for me this is one more opportunity to think bold and draw high ambitions for the benefit of human societies. We have tempt the right question in order to imagine the right answer.

What will new technology let us do that was previously impossible? Zipline is completely rethinking how healthcare could be delivered in an on- demand world. Their pilot project in Rwanda looks to address one of the leading causes of death by delivering blood on demand, via high speed drone, to locations without modern transportation or healthcare infrastructure. As Tim O’ Reilly, founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media, has put it “But if you think about it, on demand technology could be transforming healthcare everywhere — if we think big, and use technology not just to cut costs and improve profits but to deliver previously impossible services”.


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