Most people think that new technology or advanced technology can never start in Africa. Instead, they think that the best way to help the continent advance is by providing aid or services that the continent can't provide for itself. So while we see advanced technology like robotics and artificial intelligence growing exponentially in the developed world, those same people are worried that a technologically backward Africa is falling behind. That attitude couldn't be more wrong.
I'm a robotics entrepreneur who's spent a lot of time here in Africa. And in 2014 we created Zipline, which is a company that uses electric autonomous aircraft to deliver medicine to hospitals and health centers on demand. Last year, we launched the world's first automated delivery system operating at national scale. And guess what? We did not do that in the US, we didn't do it in Japan, and we didn't do it in Europe. It was actually President Paul Kagame and the Rwandan Ministry of Health that made a big bet on the potential of this technology and signed a commercial contract to deliver a majority of the country's blood on demand.
Yeah, they deserve the applause.
So why is blood important? Rwanda collects between 60- and 80,000 units of blood a year. So this is a product that when you need it, you really, really need it. But blood is also challenging, because it has a very short shelf life, there are lots of different storage requirements, and it's really hard to predict the demand for all of these different blood groups before a patient actually needs something. But the cool thing is that using this technology, Rwanda has been able to keep more blood centralized and then provide it when a patient needs something to any hospital or health center in an average of just 20 or 30 minutes. Do you guys want to see how it works?
All right. Nobody believes me, so...better to show.
This is our distribution center, which is about 20 kilometers outside of Kigali. This actually used to be a cornfield nine months ago, and with the Rwandan government, we leveled it and built this center in a couple weeks. So when a patient is having an emergency, a doctor or a nurse at that hospital can send us a WhatsApp, telling us what they need. And then our team will immediately spring into action. We pull the blood from our stock, which is delivered from the National Center for Blood Transfusion; we scan the blood into our system so the Ministry of Health knows where the blood is going; and then we'll basically pack it into a Zip, which is what we call these little autonomous airplanes that run on batteries. And then once that Zip is ready to go, we accelerate it from zero to 100 kilometers an hour in about half of a second.
And from the moment it leaves the end of the launcher, it's completely autonomous.
(Air traffic controller directs traffic)
This is our air traffic controller calling it in to Kigali International Airport. And when the Zip arrives at the hospital, it descends to about 30 feet and drops the package. We use a really simple paper parachute—simple things are best—that allows the package to come to the ground gently and reliably in the same place every time. So it's just like ride sharing; the doctors get a text message one minute before we arrive, saying, "Walk outside and receive your delivery."
And then—and then the doctors have what they need to save a patient's life.
This is actually watching a delivery happen from our distribution center; this vehicle is about 50 kilometers away. We're able to watch the vehicle as it makes a delivery at a hospital in real time. You may have noticed there are pings that are coming off of that vehicle on the screen. Those pings are actually data packets that we're getting over the cell phone networks. So these planes have SIM cards just like your cell phone does, and they're communicating over the cell network to tell us where they are and how they're doing at all times. Believe it or not, we actually buy family plans—for this fleet of vehicles, because that's how we get the best rates.
It's actually not a joke.
So today, we're delivering about 20 percent of the national blood supply of Rwanda outside of Kigali. We serve about 12 hospitals, and we're adding hospitals to that network at an accelerating rate. All of those hospitals only receive blood in this way, and most of those hospitals actually place multiple orders every day.
So the reason—in all of health care logistics, you're always trading off waste against access. So if you want to solve waste, you keep everything centralized. As a result, when patients are having emergencies, sometimes they don't have the medical product they need. If you want to solve access, you stock a lot of medicine at the last mile, at hospitals or health centers, and then patients have the medicine they need. But you end up throwing a lot of medicine out, which is very expensive. What's so amazing is that the Rwandan government has been able to break this cycle permanently. Because doctors can get what they need instantly, they actually stock less blood at the hospitals. So although use of blood products has increased substantially at all the hospitals we serve, in the last nine months, zero units of blood have expired at any of these hospitals.
That's an amazing result. That's actually not been achieved by any other health care system on the planet, and it happened here. But obviously, when we're talking about delivering medical products instantly, the most important thing is patients.
Let me give you an example. A couple months ago, a 24-year-old mother came into one of the hospitals that we serve, and she gave birth via C-section. But that led to complications, and she started to bleed. Luckily, the doctors had some blood of her blood type on hand that had been delivered via Zipline's routine service, and so they transfused her with a couple units of blood. But she bled out of those units in about 10 minutes. In this case, that mother's life is in grave danger—in any hospital in the world. But luckily, the doctors who were taking care of her immediately called our distribution center, they placed an emergency order, and our team actually did emergency delivery after emergency delivery after emergency delivery. They ended up sending seven units of red blood cells, four units of plasma and two units of platelets. That's more blood than you have in your entire body. All of it was transfused into her, the doctors were able to stabilize her, and she is healthy today.
Since we launched, we've done about 400 emergency deliveries like that, and there's a story like that one behind most of those emergencies. Here are just a couple of the moms who have received transfusions in this way in the last couple months. We're always reminded: when we can help a doctor save a mom's life, it's not just her life that you're saving. That's also a baby boy or a baby girl who has a mother while they're growing up.
But I want to be clear: postpartum hemorrhaging—it's not a Rwanda problem, it's not a developing-world problem—this is a global problem. Maternal health is a challenge everywhere. The main difference is that Rwanda was the first country to use radical technology to do something about it. And that's the reason this attitude of Africa being disrupted or advanced technology not working here or needing aid is so totally wrong. Africa can be the disrupter. These small, agile, developing economies can out-innovate large, rich ones. And they can totally leapfrog over the absence of legacy infrastructure to go straight to newer and better systems.
In 2000, if you had said that high-quality cellular networks were about to roll out across all of Africa, people would have told you that you were crazy. And yet, no one anticipated how fast those networks were going to connect and empower people. Today, 44 percent of the GDP of Kenya flows through M-Pesa, their mobile payment platform. And not only that, but our autonomous fleet of vehicles relies on that cellular network. Over the next few years as we start serving private health care facilities, we'll also use that mobile payment platform to collect fees for deliveries. So innovation leads to more innovation leads to more innovation. And meanwhile, most people who live in developed economies think that drone delivery is technologically impossible, let alone happening at national scale in East Africa. And I do mean East Africa, not just Rwanda.
On Thursday, just a couple days ago, the Tanzanian Ministry of Health announced that they are going to use this same technology to provide instant delivery of a wide range of medical products to 10 million of the hardest to reach people in the country.
It's actually going to be the largest autonomous system anywhere in the world.
To give you a sense of what this looks like, this is one of the first distribution centers. You can see a 75-kilometer service radius around the distribution center, and that allows us to serve hundreds of health facilities and hospitals, all of which are rural, from that single distribution center. But to serve over 20 percent of the population of Tanzania, we're going to need multiple distribution centers. We'll actually need four. And from these distribution centers, we expect to be doing several hundred lifesaving deliveries every day, and this system will ultimately serve over 1,000 health facilities and hospitals in the country. So yeah, East Africa is moving really fast.
One thing that people, I think, often miss is that these kinds of leaps generate compounding gains. For example, Rwanda, by investing in this infrastructure for health care, now has an aerial logistics network that they can use to catalyze other parts of their economy, like agriculture or e-commerce. Even more importantly, 100 percent of the teams we hire at these distribution centers are local. So here's our Rwandan team, which is a group of extraordinary engineers and operators. They run the world's only automated delivery system operating at national scale. They have been able to master something that the largest technology companies in the world have not yet been able to figure out. So they are total heroes.
They're total heroes.
Our team's mission is to deliver basic access to medicine to all seven billion people on the planet, no matter how hard it is to reach them. We often tell people about that mission, and they say, "That's so generous of you, it's so philanthropic." No! Philanthropy has nothing to do with it. Because of the commercial contracts that we sign with ministries of health, these networks are 100 percent sustainable and scalable. And the reason we feel so strongly about correcting that misperception is that entrepreneurship is the only force in human history that has lifted millions of people out of poverty.
No amount of foreign aid is going to sustainably employ 250 million African youth. And the jobs that these kids may have gotten 10 years ago are largely being automated or are being changed dramatically by technology. So they are looking for new skill sets, new competitive advantages. They're looking for start-ups. So why aren't there more start-ups that are tackling these global problems that are faced by billions of people in developing economies? The reason is that investors and entrepreneurs are totally blind to the opportunity. We think these problems are the domain of NGOs or governments, not private companies. That's what we have to change.
You may have noticed I left something out of the video that I showed you. I didn't show you how the planes land when they get back to the distribution center. So, it might be obvious to you: none of our planes have landing gear. We also don't have runways where we operate. So we have to be able to decelerate the plane from about 100 kilometers an hour to zero in half of a second. And the way we do that is we actually use a wire that tracks that plane as it comes in, with centimeter-level accuracy. We snag the plane out of the sky, and then we gently plop it onto an actively inflated cushion. This is basically a combination of an aircraft carrier and a bouncy castle.
So let me show you.
And it might be obvious to you why I wanted to end with this video. I wanted to show you the kids and the teenagers who line up on the fence every day. They cheer every launch and every landing.
Sometimes I actually show up at the distribution center early because I'm jet-lagged. I'll show up an hour before we begin operation. And there will be kids on the fence getting good seats.
And you go up and you ask them, "What do you think about the planes?" And they'll say, "Oh, it's a sky ambulance." So they get it. I mean, they get it more than most adults.
So I was asking earlier: Who is going to be creating the disruptive technology companies of Africa over the next decade? Ultimately, it's going to be up to these kids. They are the engineers of Rwanda and Africa. They are the engineers of our shared future. But the only way they can build that future is if we realize that world-changing companies can scale in Africa, and that disruptive technology can start here first.