By Clement Uwiringiyimana
KIGALI, May 13 (Reuters) - President Paul Kagame said on Friday Rwanda was keen on plans to use drones to deliver blood supplies and vaccines, and was working with U.S.-based firm Zipline to launch the service by August.
International delivery company UPS is backing robotics company Zipline International Inc in a partnership which also includes Gavi, a group providing vaccines to poor countries.
The drones will deliver blood and vaccines to half the transfusion centres in the country of 11 million people, making deliveries 20 times faster than by land.
"Drones are very useful things and we're investing our time and resources and everything in this area. But at the same time we are aware of certain risks involved but which are manageable," Kagame told a news conference at the World Economic Forum on Africa.
Keller Rinaudo, Zipline's chief executive, told a news conference in Kigali the firm had spent $12 million in developing drones. The planned service will use 12 to 15 of the unmanned aircraft.
"The first flight actually delivering may occur in late July or late August. We are locating the system in Muhanga (in southern Rwanda) and we'll be serving most of the transfusing facilities in the western half of the country," he said.
"By the end of 2017, we can be covering the entire country of Rwanda."
Companies in the United States and elsewhere are keen to use drones to cut delivery times and costs, but there are hurdles ranging from the risk of collisions with airplanes to ensuring battery safety and longevity.
As far back as 2013, online retailer Amazon said it was testing delivery using drones and Alphabet Inc's Google has promised such a service by 2017. Leading retailer Walmart is also testing drones.
(Writing by George Obulutsa; editing by Andrew Roche)
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