Distribution: The Promise of Drones in the Social Sector


In the United States, discussion of delivery drones usually follows stories such as this New York Times piece about Amazon testing product delivery drones. While Amazon may be aiming for an automated distribution channel, drones offer hope to public and social sector organizations as well.

Distribution is a pillar of marketing, and equitable and cost-effective distribution is a necessity for social goods and services.

This CBS News story showcases several efforts to employ drones in Africa for distributing vital public and social services in areas lacking other infrastructure such as roads and rail.

Healthcare is one obvious sector requiring time-critical distribution. A patient’s condition can deteriorate while awaiting test results or medicine deliver hampered by lack of infrastructure.

As stated in the CBS News story, medical deliveries in Rwanda can require weeks due to poor roads that are often hampered by weather and vegetation. Aerial delivery by drones cuts the time require to just hours. Improving any organization process by 95 percent or more has a transformative effect.

In the case of medicine, one such impact is expanding the number of tests available to doctors in remote areas. Often tests are not possible because they can’t be performed on-site and transporting samples to a central lab takes too much time. If a remote doctor can now deliver samples for testing in a couple hours, and get results by mobile phone, then the range of care available increases dramatically. That doctor is now more competitive with services available in more developed areas with better infrastructure.

Distribution by drone also holds promise in disaster relief, when normal infrastructure has been disrupted just when there’s increased need to distribute food, medicine, and other supplies.

Drones still face obstacles of availability, reliability, cost, and regulation. The ability to transform distribution of social goods may help knock down those obstacles and put more drones in the sky.

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