The Current

Can drones save lives?

Can drones save lives? That's the latest question as innovators design flying robots to deliver medicine to remote parts of Canada and the world. But new technology brings with it new risks and new ethical questions.
A San Francisco-based drone delivery company, Zipline International Inc., says it will be making its first delivery of blood and medicine in Rwanda this summer. (Zipline International)

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Starting this July, unmanned drones will deliver medicine and blood in Rwanda as part of a pilot project 

Zipline, a Silicon Valley startup, will be setting up a drone network on behalf of the Rwandan government this summer. It will cover about half the country and will be used to deliver blood, vaccines and other medical supplies.

For many people living in Rwanda, medical help is both tantalizingly close and impossibly far away. The country is tiny — about half the size of Nova Scotia — but most of its roads are unpaved and often washed out by rain.

At times, it can take hours for essential supplies to reach rural communities —when they can reach them at all.

Rwanda isn't the only place looking into drones to improve health care — pilot projects are taking place in Canada too.

While Canada has already used drones to deliver equipment and help locate people at accident sites, the possibility of providing health care to Canadians in remote communities could allow for faster, cheaper emergency relief.

But experts warn there will be technical and regulatory challenges to overcome if drones are to become a bigger part of our health-care system.

Guests in this segment:

  • Keller Rinaudo, CEO of Zipline, which will be launching a drone health care project in Rwanda this summer.
  • Philip Reece, CEO of InDro Robotics
  • Greg Ross, associate dean of research at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. 

This segment was produced by The Current's Sarah Grant and Hamutal Dotan.