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Drones Helping the Sick in Costa Rica
Drones delivering medicine could be a solution for people living in the remote areas of Costa Rica. The indigenous people in these areas are far away from medical facilities and pharmacies. Trekking back and forth from their homes to cities to get medical supplies is a very difficult and time-consuming process. Therefore, many do not get the medicine they need.

As an initiative of Costa Rica’s Social Security System (CAJA), drones will deliver medication to eight indigenous communities in the province of Limón. To launch the program, CAJA has teamed up with the company Zipline.

Zipline, with the tagline, “No Roads, No Problems!” manufactures small robot airplanes called “Zips,” which can carry vaccines, medicine and blood to wherever they are needed. The startup estimates that “two billion people lack adequate access to essential medical products, often due to challenging terrain and gaps in infrastructure.” Zipline offers a simple way to deliver prescriptions to people living in rural regions especially in underdeveloped countries. Zipline is already in use in Rwanda, delivering blood and plasma to hospitals in rural areas. These drones make 50 to 150 deliveries per day.

The Zipline method is easy. After a doctor inputs the prescription into CAJA’s Digital Health Records system, a pharmacist at a local clinic prepares the medication, secures it in a container and places it inside the drone. Now, the Zip can begin its flight to the patient’s home. Once the medicine has been safely parachuted to the destination, the doctor is alerted in order to keep track of who has received medication.

The drones delivering medicine only weigh about 22 pounds. They are equipped with a GPS for location accuracy. Clinical workers can also ensure that the drones are following the correct route. The drones usually travel 62 miles per hour, but can go faster if needed. At such a rate, medication reaches its destination in approximately 45 minutes. As compared to the usual three-day process of getting medication to patients, the drones are cutting the time down dramatically.

In 2017, Zips will deliver approximately 13,200 packages a month, which will cost the Costa Rican government $26,000. This is much cheaper and more effective than alternatives tried in the past, including bicycles, motorcycles and boats. Land transportation methods have had issues because remote areas rarely have paved roads.

If drones delivering medicine are successful in Limón, the program, or one like it, may expand to other communities in need and possibly other countries that face similar issues.

Karla Umanzor

Photo: Flickr

remote areas
Google has partnered with the French space agency, the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales, to provide rural and remote areas of the world with Internet access. The partnership aims to reach higher ground with the Project Loon initiative.

Project Loon is a Google research and development project with the mission of providing Internet access to rural and remote areas. The project uses high altitude balloons to create an aerial wireless network that project Wi-Fi signals.

The balloons are solar powered and each is coordinated to make movements in a complex formation to provide continuous service. Google’s new approach on these balloons involves using technology with powerful satellites. Powerful satellites will provide more responsive Internet for the balloons to harness and spread.

They rise more than 60,000 feet above the Earth’s surface, placing them far beyond the reach of airplanes and atmospheric storm systems.

Satellite Internet is already becoming faster and more inexpensive at a steady rate. About 1.5 billion people get home Internet through a satellite connection, though only 0.2 percent of people in developed countries are connected through satellite.

Google wants to launch 100,000 balloons into the stratosphere to offer free Internet access in remote and rural locations around the world, and retrieve them when they lose air and fall to the ground.

To date, there are 75 Google balloons airborne, hovering somewhere near the far reaches of the Southern Hemisphere. These balloons automatically regulate their altitudes according to the algorithms to catch wind drafts and keep them on path.

A majority of the world still lacks Internet access, even after the 1.8 billion people that joined the Internet in 2014. An astounding 4.4 billion people still have never been online.

Internet access can benefit those in developing countries, especially those in India, where the population has more mobile phones than sanitary toilets. In India, over 1 billion people are still offline.

Moreover, China’s massive population of 1.3 people may be iPhone-obsessed, but more than half of its population still remains disconnected.

The Internet can be a useful tool for farmers, as access to the Internet allows farmers to be updated on constant climate changes, and projected problems in the seasons that may affect crop growth. Moreover, Internet access can also be a useful education tool used in schools for learning, and it can improve literacy rates.

Google’s balloons may sound expensive, but research actually indicates that these balloons are cheaper than setting up and maintaining cell towers, and the balloons are also more effective to bring access to remote areas.

Although Google’s project has faced criticism and doubts along the process among Project Loon, Google notes that the next big step is testing how the balloons handle thousands of pounds of pressure.

Google’s engineers have spent weeks trying to isolate any problems they had in the past with the balloons that are already hovering over vast remote areas. Google has the potential to deliver its promise of Internet access across the world and to regions that have been without it with precise research and design.

Sandy Phan

Sources: Google, NPR
Photo: Digital Trends