Zipline – A drone delivery logistics company

by Precious Cyprain
4 mins read
Zipline drone delivery company

Zipline is a private American company that designs, builds and runs a delivery system using drones. The logistics company was founded in March 2014 in Half Moon Bay, California, United States. The founders of Zipline are Keller Rinaudo Cliffton (CEO), Keenan Wyrobek, Ryan Oksenhorn and William Hetzler. It has its headquarters situated in South San Francisco, California, United States.  

In 2016, Zipline started initially by delivering medical supplies such as blood, platelets, frozen plasmas, medicines, infusions, vaccines, etc in Rwanda. The company has since then expanded its services to delivering retail, food, animal health products and agricultural products. These services are available in their distribution centres in the United States, Nigeria, Rwanda, Cote d’Ivoire, Japan, Ghana and Kenya. 

As of December 2023, Zipline had successfully made more than 800,000 commercial deliveries in its distribution centres delivering more than nine million products to different locations via drones. Most blood deliveries in Rwanda are done using Zipline drones. The company has partners like Walmart and Sweetgreen for the delivery of non-medical products.  

How Zipline Delivery Operates 

Zipline designs and builds its delivery drones which are operated in their drone airports which are the distribution centers. When Zipline receives an order for a medical supply placed by medical personnel in a clinic or hospital, the order is received by a fulfilment operator who prepares the medical product for delivery into a special kind of delivery package installed with a parachute.  

The package is then handed to the flight operator who places the packaged product into a drone and performs preflight checks. Once the check is successful, a supercapacitor-powered electric catapult launcher is used to launch the drone making it accelerate from 0 to 113km/hr in 0.33 seconds. After the drone is launched, it flies autonomously to its delivery destination with a remote pilot monitoring every drone in flight from the distribution centre for a smooth delivery. 

Upon arriving at the delivery location, the drone descends to a height of about 66-115ft and releases the package using the paper drogue parachute. Then the drone flies back to the distribution centre and lands by its tail hook. Irrespective of extreme weather conditions and locations, a Zipline distribution centre is capable of delivering medical products to any location within 80km. 

Zipline drones make fast deliveries of medical products which has helped in saving many lives. The drone would spend 45 minutes delivering to a location that would require 7 hours by road. It flies at a speed of 101km/hr at a height of 260-390ft above ground level. The drone can carry up to 1.8kg of product for delivery. It has a fast-replaceable battery which allows it to maximize its flight. 

Level four autonomy is achieved with Zipline drones whereby it can autonomously complete a travel to and fro without requiring monitoring by a pilot. When faults are experienced, the drones have a parachute that lands it with less ground impact. A distribution centre can successfully make up to 500 deliveries in a day.

Beneficial characteristics of the delivery service 

  • Great delivery convenience: The drones deliver products to the exact destination in the best condition. 
  • Faster delivery: The deliveries are made at seven times the speed of a traditional road vehicle. 
  • High customer reach: Zipline’s distribution centre can deliver to locations of up to 80km thereby reaching a high number of customers in need due to their extended range.  
  • Electric powered vehicles: The drones are electrically powered therefore they don’t require gas which leads to a healthier environment. 
  • Easy and User-friendly infrastructure: Getting integrated into Zipline’s software and infrastructure requires a simple process 
  • Lower costs: The company renders a low and predictable service cost for its autonomous delivery.  

Positive impacts of Zipline drones’ delivery services 

  1. Less waste of medical supplies: Fewer waste of blood products have been recorded in Zipline locations due to proper storage and swift delivery of these products.  
  2. Safer environment: There is 97% less gas emissions with Ziplibne’s fully electric drone delivery than traditional gas-powered delivery. 
  3. Swift treatment of emergency conditions: There are fewer deaths due to haemorrhages in Zipline-served hospitals due to the fast delivery of medical supplies. 
  4. More access to medical products: There is easy access to medical products such as vaccines in areas operated by Zipline 
  5. Job creation: Zipline has created job opportunities for indigenes of the states where they operate 

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