Logistics startup Zipline has made headlines in the autonomous electric delivery drones, which have flown an impressive 38 million miles since the company’s founding in 2014.
On Wednesday, the Silicon Valley-based startup unveiled its next-generation aircraft, which it hopes will make rapid aerial deliveries an everyday convenience for customers in the UK, including those in densely populated urban areas.
The company first put its fleet to work in Rwanda, delivering essential medical supplies to clinics and hospitals via drone. Zipline has since expanded its services to six other countries, and has limited delivery operations and distribution centers in three states.
The new drone, called the Platform 2 or P2 Zip, can carry up to eight pounds of cargo within a 10-mile radius and can land on a small space such as a table or doorstep. This technology promises to revolutionize the logistics industry, making deliveries faster, more efficient, and more accessible than ever before.
“The reason that number is important,” says Zipline CEO and co-founder Keller Rinaudo Cliffton, “is that when you look at e-commerce in the US, a vast majority of packages weigh five pounds or less.”
Zipline’s next-generation aircraft, the P2 Zip, can travel up to ten miles in ten minutes and deliver packages approximately seven times faster than traditional delivery services. This technology promises to revolutionize the industry and help combat theft of packages left on doorsteps while customers are away from home, known as “porch pirates.”
The P2 Zip features lift and cruise propellers as well as a fixed wing, making it highly maneuverable and capable of operating quietly in adverse weather conditions. To deliver packages to customers, the drone hovers around 300 feet above the ground and deploys a mini-aircraft and container called the “droid” via a thin tether. The droid uses fan-like thrusters to maneuver into position and deliver the package.
While the P2 Zip is designed for shorter-range deliveries of up to eight pounds within a ten-mile radius, Zipline’s original P1 Zip drone will remain in production and use. The P1 Zip can travel up to 60 miles and carry up to five pounds of cargo, but it requires more space for takeoff and landing. According to CEO Rinaudo Cliffton, both drones will play important roles in Zipline’s delivery operations.
Zipline’s original P1 Zip drone uses a parachute to deliver its payload, landing within an area roughly the size of two car parking spots. However, once a P1 Zip returns to base, an employee must disassemble and prepare it for the next flight, including installing a new battery.
The new P2 Zip drone, on the other hand, can autonomously dock at a charging station that resembles a street lamp with an attached arm and disc. At the station, the drone can quickly power up and be ready for its next delivery, streamlining the delivery process and allowing for faster turnaround times.
Zipline’s docks can be easily installed in a single parking spot or alongside a building, depending on zoning and permits. The company envisions these docks being set up in downtown shopping districts or outside hospital walls, where healthcare workers can insert and retrieve the droid through a window or dumbwaiter for secure and convenient deliveries.
According to Rinaudo Cliffton, setting up a Zipline dock is as easy as installing an electric vehicle charger.
Zipline has already established logistics networks in six countries, including Rwanda, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Japan, Kenya, and Nigeria. While the company currently operates some drone delivery networks in the US, the P2 Zip will enable it to expand its reach even further.
Several partners, including Sweetgreen, Intermountain Health, Michigan Medicine, Multicare Healthcare System, and the government of Rwanda, are planning to test deliveries via the P2 Zip.
“The future of delivery is faster, more sustainable and creates broader access, all of which provides improved value for our customers,” said Jonathan Neman, Co-Founder and CEO of Sweetgreen. “We couldn’t be more excited to work with Zipline to complement our delivery strategy. Zipline’s sustainable technology and ability to reach customers quickly, with a great delivery experience, will help us give our customers what they want, when they want it.”
Zipline is not the only company with ambitions for drone deliveries. Other startups, such as DroneUp and Flytrex, are part of a program to make deliveries for Walmart. Amazon has also been working on drone deliveries for nearly a decade, although the business has faced regulatory obstacles and low demand from test customers.
Zipline has placed a strong emphasis on ensuring that their drones are not only safe and energy-efficient, but also operate quietly enough that they do not disrupt communities, according to Jo Mardall, the company’s head of engineering. Mardall stated that success for Zipline would mean being barely audible and operating at a volume closer to rustling leaves than a passing car. The P2 Zip’s unique propeller design makes this possible, along with the fact that the drone delivers from a height of 300 feet.
Zipline’s aim is to have a positive impact on the environment while improving the logistics industry by providing faster and more efficient deliveries, stated Rinaudo Cliffton, the CEO. By avoiding traffic congestion on the ground, Zipline’s unmanned aerial vehicles are environmentally friendly since they can be powered with renewable or clean energy, thus eliminating the emissions associated with traditional fuel-burning delivery methods. Additionally, the use of Zipline’s drone delivery system allows businesses to centralize inventory and reduce waste.
A study published by Lancet found that hospitals using Zipline services were able to reduce their total annual blood supply waste rate by 67%, the CEO boasted.
“That is a mind-blowing statistic, and a really big deal. It saves health systems millions of dollars, by reducing inventory at the last mile and only sending it when it’s needed.”
Zipline is aiming to keep the cost of drone delivery competitive with existing services, similar to FedEx and UPS, and food delivery apps such as Uber Eats and Instacart.