California-based drone developer Zipline International Inc. has expanded its network of airborne parcel delivery bots to the African country of Ghana, three years after launching a similar service distributing vaccines and blood supplies in rural Rwanda.
Backed by financing from UPS Inc., Google Inc., and other venture capital funds, San Francisco-based Zipline makes flying drones with five-foot wingspans that cruise about 60 mph using battery-powered propellers. Each drone can carry a four-pound payload within a 50-mile radius, flying over the rugged mountains, rivers, and washed-out roads that often hamper rural delivery routes, the company says. After dropping its parcel by parachute, each drone autonomously returns to land at its home base.
To launch its first application in Rwanda, Zipline teamed with Gavi, an international public-private partnership based in Geneva, Switzerland, that was created to increase the equitable use of vaccines in lower-income countries. Since starting that program in 2016, Zipline has carried more than 13,000 packages and now delivers more than 65 percent of Rwanda's blood supply outside of the capital city, Kigali, the group said.
Zipine will now continue its partnership with Gavi for the Ghana project, with plans to open four distribution centers—each equipped with 30 drones that operate 24 hours a day—and deliver parcels to over 2,000 health facilities serving 12 million people across the country, according to Gavi.
The Zipline drone network will be integrated into Ghana's national healthcare supply chain, and is designed to help prevent vaccine stockouts in health facilities as well as during national immunization campaigns. Logistics will be managed through Zipline's hardware and software systems in each of the DCs, and deliveries will take place at hospitals and health clinics. UPS will provide technical guidance and consultancy services as needed.
"The ability of the government to supplement routine immunization on demand will allow us to make sure that there will always be enough life-saving vaccines for every child in Ghana," Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, said in a release. "This is an exciting development for Gavi that is ultimately going to ensure we leave no one behind and help us protect more children living in remote areas against vaccine-preventable diseases."
Zipline's model of drone-based delivery may eventually expand to the commercial e-commerce delivery market, but the technology will first make its biggest impact in the healthcare logistics market, where every delivery is potentially saving a human life, Zipline CEO and co-founder Keller Rinaudo said in a recent video interview with DC Velocity.
After that focus on life-saving applications, the drone delivery model will likely grow to include high-need, urgent applications in the industrial sector, then finally start to see utility in the large, commercial parcel-delivery market, Rinaudo said.