By Drew Ianni
January 19, 2020
Saving Lives & Disrupting Global Logistics
Zipline is a transformational change in logistics. The company, founded in San Francisco in 2014 by Keller Rinaudo and Keenan Wyrobeck, and backed by $120MM in funding from leading VCs including Sequoia Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, and Google Ventures, Zipline has created a fleet of the world’s fastest delivery drones that deliver vital medical supplies to hospitals and other health facilities in East Africa. To-date, the disruptive logistics innovator has made over 40,000 commercial deliveries across the continent.
Medical staff at remote clinics send orders via SMS or WhatsApp and a confirmation message is returned. The Zipline drone is released by what looks like a big slingshot and the flight paths are pre-programmed using information from a 3D satellite map and ground surveys. As a Zipline controller at the base monitors all drones in flight, upon arriving at its destination, the drone releases the package with a small parachute above a predetermined point.
The payload can land within a sixteen-foot diameter landing zone. The end-customer tracks the arrival of the drone and its cargo via the app similar to how we all track an Uber or Lyft coming to pick us up. The drone adjusts its release point based on real-time wind data so that the package floats precisely to its destination. The company’s drones fly through inclement weather, day or night, and after delivery the drone returns and is quickly prepped to fly again. The cost per delivery is the same as previous motorcycle delivery services although overall costs are reduced by supply chain optimization and waste minimization.
Global Expansion & The Future of Logistics
The company is currently expanding its operations to the Philippines, India and Australia to deliver medical supplies, assist with government disaster recovery and provide third-party warehousing and transportation logistics for a variety of industries. Zipline is also working with the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to develop rules for the operation of drones beyond the line of sight and, in response to the COVID crisis in the United States, in late May 2020, the FAA approved Zipline for the delivery of medical supplies and personal protective equipment to hospitals in rural North Carolina.
“Rural healthcare is a challenge in every country in the world” says Co-Founder Kelli Rinaudo. “but you also now see much bigger and wealthier countries like the U.S. actually using Rwanda as the role model.”