Zipline talks price and vaccine delivery

Drone delivery companies have for long been extolling the virtues of drone technology as faster alternative to conventional ways of delivering parcels; and these unprecedented Coronavirus times, they have proved their worth.

But nobody has ever asked what the cost of all this convenience will be for the consumer.

Now, the question has been asked, and Keller Rinaudo has responded.

Speaking to Fox Business from his company’s base in San Francisco last week, Mr Rinaudo, the CEO and co-founder of drone-based health logistics company Zipline, did not give the actual figures of how much they will be charging to deliver health care products to Walmart clients who will form part of the giant retailer’s drone delivery pilot project – but he did say it will be comparable to traditional delivery methods available today.

“Basically,” said Rinaudo, “we have put together an entire model with Walmart as part of this partnership, to make sure that this is available for customers at basically similar price, if not lower than other instant delivery solutions on the market today, which are typically using a human driving a 3,000-pound gas combustion vehicle to deliver something that might weigh two or three pounds. We want to show there are actually much more cost-effective ways of delivering those kinds of products.”

Given that is costs between $7,95 and $9,95 to deliver a Walmart order in the USA, the hope is the option offered by drones will get progressively faster and cheaper the more it is adopted by the market. As it is, while Walmart contracted Zipline to deliver healthcare products – first in Arkansas before spreading to the rest of the country – they have also taken on board the services of Flytrex and DroneUp; two drone delivery companies who will be taking care of the grocery deliveries while Zipline stays in its lane as the dedicated healthcare logistics company.

Said Rinaudo; “From Zipline’s perspective, the reason why we been focused on health and wellness, and healthcare logistics generally, is because we think this is really a high-impact and important use case of drone technology, which can have a really positive effect on people’s lives; and that’s where we focussed our company.

“In the long run, it looks likely that drone technology will be a key part of each country on earth’s infrastructure, and I think it will be absolutely as useful for general merchandise as it is for health care products today.”

During the interview, Rinaudo – who acknowledged that his company’s partnership with Walmart was a great chance for drone technology companies to show the American people and the rest of the world that drones can really work as a more environmentally friendly alternative to conventional delivery means used today – revealed Zipline’s plans to spread across the whole USA in the next three years, the same way they have spread in countries like Rwanda, operating in all kinds of weather.  

And when a vaccine for COVID-19 is finally found and approved, Rinaudo said Zipline’s fleet will be ready; having already made groundwork with various governments.

“Vaccine delivery will be a huge challenge for all humanity over the next year,” Rinaudo said. A lot of people are asking when they can have the vaccine ready, not quite understanding that once the vaccine is ready, there is going to be a massive logistics challenge. The vaccine is likely going to require likely -94 degree-storage or coaching conditions when it’s been transported.

“There is no logistics system on earth that’s ready to transport that kind of a vaccine in billions of doses to hospital facilities; so we are working directly with governments to make sure that they have the ability to, in very precise ways, deliver small amounts of this cryogenically frozen vaccine, first to first responders, doctors and nurses and then to primary care facilities where were everything a person on earth to get vaccinated.

“Another point to consider is around equality and access to vaccine; and if we want new ways of delivering this kind of healthcare intervention in an equitable way, we need new technology to do that, and that’s something we are really focused on with every government we partner with.”

Zipline have been delivering medical supplies and other hospital products to remote areas in Rwanda since 2016, before they expanded in Ghana. Having covered thousands of airmiles in Africa, they hope to achieve the same success in the USA.

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