Zipline has completed 1 million commercial deliveries

It might have been unremarkable in its simplicity but when Zip 856 made a landing to deliver two bags of IV fluid from Zipline’s distribution centre in Ghana’s Western North Region to a local health facility today, it was completing a remarkable landmark on a journey that started ten years ago.

For that mission in Ghana officially marked the one millionth time that drone logistics company made a successful commercial delivery from its operations worldwide.

It took years of hard work and perseverance to get here. And a willing proof of concept partner in Rwanda, which came raised its hand when Zipline went knocking on doors in search of partners to prove its idea that deliveries by drone could be made at scale.

“Ten years ago, in April 2014, we were just beginning to imagine how drone delivery could change the world,” wrote Ryan Oksenhorn, co-founder of Zipline in a blog post.

“We saw traffic jams of gas-guzzling cars. We saw communities cut off from reliable access to supplies due to supply chain logjams, poor urban planning, difficult terrain or roads washed out from floods.

“We knew there had to be a better system to get people the things they needed.

“So we got to work. Two tireless years later we made our first big step towards this vision: in October 2016, we started flying daily blood deliveries to two hospitals in Rwanda.

“In those early days, we were struggling. We often spent hours debugging just to launch a single delivery. Once in flight, everything had to go right to stay aloft. Our Zips had to navigate through Rwanda’s torrential thunderstorms and mountainous terrain.

“But day by day, we worked the problem, got airborne, and delivered to doctors who quickly grew to depend on us. We added a few more hospitals, rolled out new software each night, and refined each component of the system. We stayed heads down in this mode for weeks, months, years.”

For the years that followed. The Zipline team worked through generations of Zips, finally settling on the Robin drone around 2018, which was the first reliable drone to make sustained deliveries without software or hardware glitches.

The Robin went about its work quietly and seamlessly, with no delays, no middle-of-the-night Zoom calls to remotely troubleshoot, no delivery failures.

In one day, it made 21 deliveries without causing alarm – and it was then that Zipline knew they were in business.

“Generations of Zips later, busy Zipline distribution centres now can launch thousands of flights per day, seven days a week through all weather conditions,” Oksenhorn.

“After seven years of non-stop service, we’ve racked up more than 70 million commercial autonomous miles from 19 distribution centres on four continents. That’s nearly three thousand laps around the planet and more than 120 years of autonomous flight hours by a human pilot.

“Our first peak of 21 deliveries in a day is now achieved every 10 minutes on a busy day.”

The company has since branched out of Rwanda into Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire, Japan, and the USA; with plans to also open operations in the United Kingdom and The Ukraine.

In Ghana, the Zips have flown temperature-sensitive snake bite antivenom to farming communities, which have saved the lives of thousands of people.

In Kenya, the drones have delivered thousands HIV/AIDS education, prevention, and treatment supplies.

And in Nigeria, Zipline has joined hands with provincial governments to deliver vaccines for children in the country. In 2023 alone, the company delivered 1.5 million doses of vaccines to children in the country, the vast majority of whom would have struggled to access the necessary drugs without the new form of automated air delivery service.

There is also time to deliver food by drone in the USA and Japan; enough proof that drone logistics can be done at scale if done right.

“This technology is proven and scalable, free of carbon emissions, human pilots, and expensive ground infrastructure like highways or rail.

“By flying through nearly limitless skies, we’ve been able to expand across entire countries to rapidly become the world’s largest autonomous system, leapfrogging autonomous cars in total service area, fleet size, and distance travelled.

“Every year, we’ve made more deliveries, built more distribution centres, delivered more types of products, and served new populations. We’ve maintained our rate of innovation so that, like a flywheel, every improvement in our performance, reliability, cost effectiveness, and range doesn’t just enable one or two more deliveries, it doubles, triples, or ten-xes the number of deliveries we make.”

In Africa at least, the impact that Zipline has made in medical delivery from its hubs to communities that would have taken days to reach using conventional means of transport, is palpable.

And it seems the company has the mathematics down to the last t, too in as far as the amount of time saved by deploying the Zips is concerned.

“More than a million times, Zipline has made a faster, more efficient, and environmentally sustainable delivery. This has prevented the equivalent of 472,000 hours of driving and eliminated more than 6,000 tons worth of carbon emissions—the equivalent of planting more than a hundred thousand trees and growing them for a decade. 

“These 1 million deliveries have mattered. They represent a massive amount of work from everyone at Zipline.

“Soon, that number will be unremarkable as we reach a million deliveries in a year, in a month, in a day. And before long, clean, reliable autonomous delivery will be available to even you.”

Congratulations on this remarkable milestone, Zipline and your Zips. Here’s to a million more commercial deliveries in a shorter time frame.

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