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Zipline International Inc. is an American company that designs, manufactures, and operates delivery drones. The company operates distribution centers in Rwanda, Ghana, Japan, the United States, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, and Kenya. As of November 2023, its drones have made more than 800,000 commercial deliveries and flown more than 40 million autonomous miles.
The company’s drones deliver whole blood, platelets, frozen plasma, and cryoprecipitate along with medical products, including vaccines, infusions, and common medical commodities. As of September 2021, more than 75 percent of blood deliveries in Rwanda outside of Kigali use Zipline drones. In April 2019 in Ghana, the company began using drones to deliver vaccines, blood, and medicines. In addition, during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted a Part 107 aviation waiver to Zipline’s partner organization Novant Health for the delivery of medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) to medical facilities in North Carolina.
The company also offers delivery services for non-medical products, including partnerships with Walmart which started in 2021, and with Sweetgreen which was announced in 2023. Its website features uses for restaurants, groceries, convenience shopping, and e-commerce.
Zipline founder Keller Rinaudo beside the first generation drone
2011, Keller Rinaudo Cliffton founded Romotive, which produced an iPhone-controlled robotic toy called Romo. Co-founders Ryan Oksenhorn and William Hetzler joined during this era.
January 2014, the team decided to shut down Romotive to explore a more impactful mission. Keenan Wyrobek joined at this time to help find the new direction.
March 2014 – the company pivoted and began to develop a medical drone delivery service.
2016 – Zipline signed a deal with the Rwandan government to build a distribution center near Muhanga, and began commercial operations that same year.
2018, the Rwandan government signed a new deal to build a second distribution center near Kayonza and expand Zipline’s service to include smaller health centers in addition to hospitals and deliver vaccines and other medical products as well as blood products.
April 2018 – Zipline announced a second-generation drone, which was listed in Time’s “Best inventions of 2018” list.
April 2019 – Zipline opened its first four planned distribution centers in Ghana to supply 2,500 health facilities. The fourth Ghanaian distribution center became operational in June 2020.
May 2019 – Zipline raised $190 million on a post-money valuation of $1.2 billion. In September 2019, musician Bono joined the board. According to Rinaudo: “Rural healthcare is a challenge in every country in the world, including in the United States … You now see much bigger and wealthier countries like the US using Rwanda as a role model.”
Zipline was named to CNBC’s 2018 (25th place), 2019 (39th place), 2020 (7th place), 2022 (29th place), and 2023 (25th) Disruptor 50 lists.
November 2020 – Along with nine other drone delivery companies, the FAA selected Zipline to participate in a type certification program for delivery drones. Zipline then started undergoing airworthiness certification with the FAA that would allow their “Sparrow” model of drone to fly in the U.S.
February 2021 – Zipline announced it was adding ultra-low temperature freezers to their distribution centers to allow delivery of temperature-sensitive COVID-19 vaccines.
May 2021 – Bloomberg reported Zipline would be delivering vaccines to Cross River State and Northern Kaduna State in Nigeria. The following month, Zipline raised $250 million in new funding at a valuation of $2.75 billion.
April 2022 – the company announced that a partner, Toyota Tsusho, opened a center to do deliveries using Zipline equipment in Japan.
June 2022 – they announced a microphone-based collision avoidance system to detect and track nearby aircraft.
December 2022 – Zipline and the Government of Rwanda announced an expanded partnership to serve the entire country, with a goal to make nearly 2 million deliveries and fly more than 200 million kilometers in Rwanda by 2029.
March 2023 – Zipline announced its second platform, called Platform 2 (P2), which is capable of delivering directly to homes in cities and suburbs. Sweetgreen, Michigan Medicine, and the Government of Rwanda were announced as initial customers. Shortly after the announcement, technology and science influencer Mark Rober posted a video on Zipline which led to significant interest in the company’s novel “practically silent” propeller design and caused drone enthusiasts to try to replicate the design.
May 8, 2023 – during an interview, Rinaudo-Cliffton revealed that they had so far flown 40 million miles autonomously.
September 23, 2023 – Clearance was given to them by the FAA to be able to fly in American airspace outside of “line of sight” and therefore allowing them to make deliveries there
November 7, 2023 – Zipline announced the delivery of their one millionth vaccine dose
Operator scanning the package before packing for flight
The company designs and manufactures its drones, and builds and operates its distribution centers, which also serve as a drone airport. Medical staff at remote hospitals and clinics place orders with Zipline, a fulfillment operator receives this order and prepares the medical products into a special delivery package with a parachute.
A Zipline flight operator then packs the medical products into a drone and performs pre-flight checks. The drone is then launched with a supercapacitor-powered electric catapult launcher and accelerates from 0 to 70 miles per hour (0 to 113 km/h) in 0.33 seconds. The drone then flies itself to its delivery site while a remote pilot at each distribution center monitors all drones in flight. The drone descends to 20–35 metres (66–115 ft) before dropping the package under a paper “Drogue” parachute. A payload can land within a 5 m (16 ft) diameter landing zone. The drone then returns to the distribution center and lands by its tail hook catching an arresting gear, similar to airplanes landing on an aircraft carrier. A Zipline distribution center can deliver medical supplies reliably anywhere within 80 km (50 mi), even accounting for mountainous terrain and severe weather.
Drone specifications #
Platform 1 #
A Platform 1 drone dropping a parachute-enabled package
The drone cruises at 101 km/h (63 mph) at an altitude of 80–120 metres (260–390 ft) above ground level, ensuring deliveries are made within 45 minutes. The drone can carry up to 4 pounds (1.8 kg) of cargo and whilst it can fly 300 km (190 mi) on a charge they limit themselves to destinations a maximum of 80 km (50 mi). Each distribution center is capable of making 500 deliveries per day.
The drones have a quickly-replaceable battery that allows rapid turnaround between flights. It has an inner carbon-fiber frame and an outer polystyrene shell. The wingspan is 11 feet (3.4 m). The drone is launched from a steel rail by an electric motor. The rail accelerates the 44 pounds (20 kg) drone to 67 miles per hour (108 km/h) in 0.3 seconds.
The drones have two propellers for redundancy and can fly safely on a single propeller or motor. A parachute that will bring the drone to the ground can be deployed if a larger set of faults occur. If the drone crashes, the outer components are frangible, breaking to release energy and impact the ground with less force.
Zipline’s drones are capable of “level 4” autonomy: the ability to complete travel autonomously under normal environmental conditions without requiring pilot oversight.
Platform 2 #
On March 15, 2023, an additional platform was announced called “Platform 2” that is suited for shorter range deliveries which transport the delivery by wire instead of dropping it from the sky. The drone can carry up to 8 pounds (3.6 kg) of cargo within a 10 mi (16 km) radius. It is capable of a more precise delivery than its previous generation, and can recharge autonomously.
Zipline Operations by Country Active Zipline commercial delivery services Pending Zipline commercial delivery services Current/former demonstration services
Active commercial service #
Zipline operates two distribution centers in Rwanda.
Zipline began deliveries at its first distribution center in Muhanga in late 2016. In 2018, the Rwandan government signed a new deal to build a second distribution center near Kayonza, in the eastern part of the country. This deal expanded Zipline’s service to include smaller health centers and hospitals and deliver vaccines and other medical products and blood products. Zipline opened the Kayonza distribution center in December 2018. The company hoped this would bring coverage to 80 percent of the country.
Rwanda has mountainous geography and poor road conditions, making an aerial delivery system more efficient than the use of land vehicles. The cost of delivery via drone is comparable to that of delivery by road, especially in emergencies. A 2022 study found that Zipline’s service in Rwanda leads to faster delivery times relative to existing ground transportation and less blood component wastage in health facilities. The study found that Zipline’s drone delivery service in Rwanda shortened blood product delivery times by 61 percent, reduced blood unit expirations by 67 percent, and was frequently used in response to medical emergencies, with 43 percent of orders being emergency orders.
In 2018, Zipline signed a contract with the government of Ghana to make up to 600 deliveries a day for four years at the cost of about $12.5 million. In April 2019, Ghana’s president Nana Akufo-Addo announced the opening of the first distribution center in Ghana. Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia launched the first Zipline drone to Tafo Hospital on April 24, 2019. This first delivery contained a resupply shipment of yellow fever vaccines to prevent stock-out.
In 2021, the government of Ghana expanded its contract with Zipline to add four additional distribution centers, bringing the total number of contracted distribution centers in the country to eight. Zipline presently operates six distribution centers in Ghana, serving over 2,300 health facilities. When the network is complete, Zipline will be able to serve about 85 percent of the population directly and the remainder indirectly, reaching over 3,200 health facilities in every region of the country.
In March 2022, Zipline announced that the company had delivered over one million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine by drone in Ghana over the prior year. An independent study of Zipline’s impact on the health system in Ghana found that Zipline’s drone delivery service shortened vaccine stock-outs by 60 percent, decreased inventory-driven missed vaccination opportunities by 42 percent, decreased days facilities were without critical medical supplies by 21 percent, and increased the types of medicines and supplies stocked at health facilities by 10 percent.
United States #
As of 2018, Zipline was working with the FAA to develop rules for drone operation beyond the line of sight.
During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the FAA granted a Part 107 waiver to Novant Health in partnership with Zipline for the delivery of medical supplies and personal protective equipment to facilities in North Carolina. The company plans to offer deliveries to homes.
On November 18, 2021, Zipline started a trial service with Walmart for e-commerce shopping deliveries in Pea Ridge, Arkansas. The service, selectable to online shoppers using a special mobile app, could deliver to all residences within 50 miles (80 km) of a particular Walmart store in Pea Ridge during daylight hours.
On June 21, 2022, the license “Package Delivery by Drone (Part 135)” was granted.
On October 4, 2022, Zipline began commercial delivery services in Salt Lake City, Utah, in partnership with Intermountain Healthcare.
In April 2021, Zipline announced a partnership with an investor, Toyota Tsusho, to deliver medical products in Japan. While most Zipline facilities are staffed by locally hired operators employed by Zipline, the facilities in Japan are distinct in that they are operated by Sora-iina, a Toyota Tsusho Group company, and staffed by Toyota Tsusho employees. Zipline provides hardware and training in an OEM capacity. Construction of the first distribution center was completed in April 2022 on Fukue Island in the Gotō Islands. The drone delivery service will supply medical and pharmaceutical products to medical institutions and pharmacies in the Gotō Islands, which include 140 total islands (and five main localities). The use of drone delivery to assure routine distribution of medical products is expected to cut current sea and air transport options from several hours down to 30 minutes.
In February 2021, Zipline announced a plan to construct three distribution centers in Kaduna State, Nigeria. These distribution centers would have ultra-cold storage that is capable of safely storing COVID-19 vaccines, for which health facilities in the state could then place on-demand orders without needing ultra-cold storage of their own. The state also intends to use Zipline’s service to transport other health products, including blood, medication, and routine vaccines. In May 2021, Zipline announced a similar agreement with Cross River State. In February 2022, Zipline announced another agreement with Bayelsa State.
The first hub opened in Kaduna state in an undisclosed location on the 4th June 2022
Cote d’Ivoire #
In December 2021, the company announced an agreement to open four distribution centers in Cote d’Ivoire, it received it’s licence to begin operations in January 2023.
In February 2022, the company announced an agreement to build a distribution center in Kisumu County, Kenya. and began in October that year, as well as medical supplies it was to deliver veterinary goods and animal DNA
Pending service #
In June 2022 it was announced by the Ukrainian Ministry of Health that talks were ongoing to partner with Zipline to build ten Zipline distribution hubs in Ukraine in areas such as Tlumach
Demonstration operations #
Between July 30 and September 5, 2019, Zipline partnered with the US and Australian militaries, delivering over 400 mock blood supplies during mass casualty simulations.