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Drones deliver blood to health clinics across Rwanda

With innovative health care spreading throughout the countryside, Rwanda embraces drones.

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James Martin
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1 of 24 James Martin/CNET

Rwanda is the first country to give airspace to drones for the express purpose of flying blood to hospitals that request delivery. 

Here, a Zipline drone rests on the launchpad, ready to slingshot into the air so it can deliver blood to one of Rwanda's hospitals. 

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The Silicon Valley company Zipline uses 6-foot-long drones to fly blood to health clinics and hospitals across Rwanda. 

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This is the drone staging area inside the main hangar at the Zipline compound, about an hour's drive outside Kigali, Rwanda.

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Lab technicians prepare blood platelets for flight via drone to rural hospitals.

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Units of blood are ready to ship to hospitals in the lab at Zipline's Rwanda headquarters.

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A flight technician performs a preflight check prior to launching a drone.

The drones fly predetermined flight paths that have been loaded on to SD cards.
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The drones fly predetermined flight paths that have been loaded onto SD cards.

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The drones are nearly human-size. 

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Weighing about 30 pounds each and carrying roughly 3 pounds of blood, the drones head to nine hospitals throughout the western side of the country after first receiving orders via WhatsApp texts.

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After receiving a WhatsApp message request for blood, the drone is put on the launcher.

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A drone is launched from the slingshot-like launchpad.

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A tablet in Zipline's hangar tracks the drone's flight path in real time.

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Inside Zipline's control tower, the operator maintains contact with air traffic control in Kigali.

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Nine drones sit ready for deployment in the main hangar at the Zipline compound in Rwanda.

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Phone, laptop and iPad help keep tabs on everything Zipline needs to know about its drones. 

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A cooler full of blood arrives at the Zipline compound, where it will be prepared for delivery to hospitals at a moment's request.

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A lab tech prepares blood platelets for a drone flight.

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This is one of the Zipline delivery drones. Each is about 6 feet long and weighs 30 pounds.

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Kids line up along the fence to watch the drones land on their return to base.

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Last month, Zipline announced an agreement with Tanzania, where it will make up to 2,000 deliveries a day next year, to more than 1,000 health facilities across the country.

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A bag of B+ platelet concentrate in the lab.

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Young kids press their noses against a chain-link fence to watch the drones take off and land.

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As it returns for landing, a hook on the drone's underside snags a rope strung between two poles, stopping instantly.

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Once the rope snags a drone, it falls onto a giant inflatable cushion. From there, the drone is taken to the hangar to be checked and prepped for its next flight.

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