Zipline, the California-based startup that has been flying delivery drones in Rwanda since October 2016, has announced that it’s launching a new fleet of drones that it says are likely the fastest in the world. The autonomous, fixed-wing devices have a top speed of 121 kmph (75 mph), can fly 160 km (99 miles) in one round trip, and can carry 1.75 kg (roughly 4 lbs.) of cargo. The company’s CEO, Keller Rinaudo, told Quartz that the new drones will allow each of the company’s distribution centers in Rwanda to increase the number of deliveries they can make from 50 to 500 per day.
Rwanda is about 10,000 sq. mi., roughly the size of the US state of Massachusetts. Zipline’s drones provide access to urgent medical supplies to many of the country’s millions of residents who live outside of the more densely populated area around the capital of Kigali. Rinaudo says Zipline is now delivering 20% of the country’s blood supply outside of the capital, having so far completed over 4,000 flights, delivering around 7,000 units of blood. Roughly one-third of those deliveries have been life-saving missions, he adds. “Rwanda is basically writing the history books of showing what’s possible,” he says.
Zipline’s new drones will likely help it expand further afield. The company announced in August that it planned to expand into neighboring Tanzania, and Rinaudo has discussed the possibility of moving into even larger, more populated countries, including the US. “Even in the US, hospital services are closing at a record rate,” he notes. “But you’ve got to start somewhere—the US is a big country.”