Zipline Drones to the Rescue

April 15, 2018
Zipline Drones to the Rescue

Zipline, which launched its drone delivery service for life-saving blood supplies in Rwanda in October 2016, now reveals the next generation of autonomous drones, the fastest commercial drones on earth.

With about a 30 minute delivery time, blood can now quickly reach a population of 10 million people who utilize hospitals and clinics across the rugged and mountainous country.  Drones are launched from a distribution center, and the fixed-wing planes cruise at speeds of about 101 km/h to their destinations where the boxed blood is then parachuted to the ground.

With a top speed of 128 km/h, they are four times faster than traditional quadcopters, and their range is much greater.  The new drone will make it possible to launch a fulfillment order within one minute of its receipt, as compared to the previous ten minutes, and the number of daily delivery flights will increase from 50 to 500.

Zipline, whose logistics were mapped with help from UPS, has saved many lives since its inception by delivering critical blood in a timely way.

This post is based on two articles:’s 1 Minute Fulfillment. 101 KPH Delivery. Zipline Announces New Drones, by Miriam McNabbon, April 4, 2018, and Forbes’ Heroes in the Sky, by staff at Forbes Africa, March 26, 2018. Image source: ElementalImaging/Getty Images.

Discussion Questions

1. Which operations strategies are especially important to Zipline?

Guidance: While other strategies may also play a role, short processing time (speed of delivery) is critical to the life-saving mission of Zipline’s blood deliveries.

2. What makes forecasting difficult for the Rwandan clinics and hospitals, and how does Zipline help?

Guidance: Prior to the availability of Zipline’s blood delivery service, ambulances from various clinics and hospitals might travel two to four times a week for many hours through rugged, mountainous terrain to obtain blood for their patients.  However, forecasting what types of blood will be needed and when is difficult, and its limited shelf life meant this vital resource might be wasted.  Sometimes, due to the urgent and critical nature of the patients’ conditions, the patients themselves may have been transported to a larger medical facility to try to get the blood more quickly.

By contrast, with Zipline, blood can be ordered in exact types and quantities on an “as needed” basis, with delivery times in minutes instead of hours, minimizing waste, and making deliveries in a much more sustainable, fuel-efficient way.

3. How does the design of the Zipline drone differ from traditional quadcopters? How does this design impact the distribution of the blood?

Guidance: Traditional quadcopters can lift up and set down in many locations, as helicopters do.  The drones, which look similar to glider planes, must be launched, fly to their destination, and then return to their home base without ever landing.  Thus, when they reach the hospital or clinic, they release their delivery of blood, which is packaged in a box and descends via parachute to a landing pad the size of about three parking spaces.

The Zipline drones can fly much further distances and now can fly much faster as well, as compared to traditional quadcopters, and these features are critical to give it the reach that is needed to cover the country from its sole launch facility. A second base will be added soon, and populations of up to 10 million people will be served by Zipline.  This represents an area 200 times as large as a quadcopter could reach.


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