Zipline Electronics, commonly referred to as Zipline is a medical product delivery company that is changing the way medical supplies are delivered throughout the world. The main function of Zipline is to design, build and operate drone aircraft which are used to deliver medical products the areas that would otherwise be difficult to reach through traditional transportation and shipping services. Here are 20 things that you didn’t know about Zipline to give you an overview of its history, current contributions to the betterment of mankind, and where it’s going in the future.
1. Zipline Electronics started out as a toy company
Zipline was first established in the south region of the city of San Francisco. The company was founded in 2011 by Keller Rinaudo, initially under the business name Romotive. The first product that it designed, built, and released for sale to the public was a robotic toy called Romo, which was controlled using an iPhone. Romotive continued production of the toy through 2014 until it was shut down for a complete overhaul.
2. Two new founders came on board in 2014
As Romotive turned its focus to the design and creation of drones, Keenan Wyobrek and William Hetzler joined the company as co-founders of the new operation that was named Zipline Electronics. We can’t discount the company that kicked off the origination of the current organization as the foundational operation for Zipline. This was a reorganization of purpose to accommodate a growing need within the medical industry.
3. Zipline became a medical delivery drone manufacturer with international clients
In 2016, Zipline entered into a contract with the Rwandan government. Through this agreement, a distribution center was built in the Muhanga region and by the Spring of 2018, the company had developed a second-generation drone. Within a single year, four distribution centers were established in the country of Ghana for the purpose of supplying 2,500 health facilities with drone delivery services.
4. Zipline Electronics improves rural medical supply deliveries
Zipline has changed the way that medical supplies are delivered to rural and remote areas of the world. It is not only used in Rwanda and other African countries but also locally in the United States. Wherever there are people with medical needs in places that are hard to drive into, Zipline’s drone service can reach them with the needed medical supplies including blood, platelets, vaccines, and more.
5. Zipline is disrupting the industry
CNBC developed a list of the companies that have emerged as the biggest disruptors within their respective industries. Zipline made the CNBC 2018 Disruptor 50 list as a company that is impacting traditional modes of operation and bringing about innovative and effective changes. Instead of flying in supplies and making drops with traditional aircraft, Zipline’s second-generation drones are now making the drops. This saves a great deal of money in fuel, and time on the part of personnel who would otherwise be needed to man the craft and oversee the drops. The second-generation drone was also listed on the Best Inventions of 2018 list published by Time.
6. The design of Zipline’s drones is impressive
The second-generation drones designed and built by Zipline are not your average drone. The inner frame of the craft are made of carbon fiber with a polystyrene outer shell. The wingspan measures 12 feet in length with dual propellers which is double the requirement for safe flight. A specialty battery is installed to increase the range and make it easy to quickly replace between flights. The drones cruise at a speed of 63 mph and can reach a destination 50 miles away from the distribution center in less than 45 minutes carrying supplies. Each drone can carry up to just under 4 lbs of cargo. The drones are reputed to offer the longest range in commercial drone delivery capacities. Each hub at the distribution centers has a capacity to make 500 flights per day. The drones can achieve an acceleration speed from 0 to 70 mph in just 0.33 seconds.
7. Zipline’s drones look more like airplanes
The founders of Zipline do not refer to the craft they have created as drones. They prefer to call them “zips” “flying robots,” or “small planes.” This is understandable because each of their designs features a fixed-wing setup and they do not remember the more well-known quad-copter designs. It is precisely this fixed-wing design that gives Zipline’s drones their ability to fly for greater distances and also to exhibit a greater degree of reliability when flying in a variety of weather conditions.
8. The craft doesn’t require fuel
Zipline’s fleet of drone aircraft does not require the use of special fuels. Each is powered with a specially designed battery. KeenanWyobrek is the CTO of the company and he explained that each small plan can expect to achieve 1,500 flights before needing to have a new battery. These batteries are recharged in between flights and they do have an exceptionally long life. This makes the service that Zipline provides one of the best options for areas that do not have access to traditional fuel sources. All that is needed is a generator or electrical source for recharging. In addition, the planes operate on a system that uses less power, which extends the efficacy of the batteries over other traditional drone designs.
9. Zipline has a unique delivery system
When drones are deployed to deliver supplies, they follow a specific routine to avoid getting stuck or sustaining damage. Each delivery or dropoff location is designated to be the size of two parking spaces in an average lot. These are usually situated at a clinic. This area is referred to as the clinic’s mailbox. The drone hovers over the mailbox area about 40 feet off the ground and then makes its drop. This makes it simpler for everyone because the recipients never need to worry about getting the drone back in the air.
10. Zipline has mastered precision drops
The planes that Zipline operates rely upon the use of GPS technology. This is a refined version of the technology that provides the means for making precise maneuvers including drops onto specific target areas and also for landing in small spaces. The planes are launched from the distribution sites and they are also retrieved at these sites after making the drops. These launching and landing sites are positioned beside medical supply warehouses in Rwanda and make up the distribution points.
11. Zipline is on a mission to save lives
The goal of the founders of Zipline is to make a positive impact on world health. The idea came from their knowledge of the fact that there are people in remote areas of the world who are getting sick or injured, and they have not had access to simple medical supplies that could speed healing quickly, preventing more extreme illness, suffering, and even death. Zipline’s objective is to bring the needed medications and supplies to ease suffering, to prevent illness and to improve the health of isolated populations throughout the world.
12. Necessity spurred innovations in Zipline’s technology
The founders and design team at Zipline were faced with several unique challenges to achieving their established objectives. Many of the potentially life-saving medical products that are being shipped must be kept at certain temperatures, and some require refrigeration. This exacerbated the need to develop craft with the capability of making fast deliveries. Speed and reliability became the two most necessary features of the drones. In many cases, trips from the distribution centers to nearby clinics and hospitals are achieved in as little as 25 minutes.
13. Zipline plans to expand
According to techcrunch.com, Zipline has plans to further expand the scope of its operations. We learned that the company has a strategic plan in the works that includes adding a minimum of two more countries to the list of regions that it will serve. A goal of setting up 20 distribution centers within a year’s time is a noble and admirable goal, but Wyrobek and Rinaudo did mention that there is a need for others to help in the effort by making investments in the drone technology to fund these expansion efforts.
14. The U.S. Military is eyeing Zipline’s technology
The Defense Department has taken an active interest in the potential for Zipline’s technology to enhance logistics and support organization as well as providing a possible fighting force that would keep more boots off the ground. A joint military exercise was organized between the U.S. Marines Corps and Australian forces to investigate how these drones could be useful in tactical emergency environments. Live fire artillery was used in the exercise to simulate a real-world situation.
15. Zipline delivered an impressive display of potential
During the demonstration in Australia, Zipline aircraft performed exceptionally well making hundreds of delivery into zones with active artillery fire. They were able to increase the maximum payload. It was proven that the fleet of drones has the potential for making reliable deliveries under harsh conditions. They’re able to cover long distances in record time with a notable performance during night time maneuvers. This was a proving ground for the inventors who had not previously tested the craft under military fire.
16. The founders support humanitarian use over military
Zipline has almost exclusively maintained a focus on making medical deliveries, but the founders do acknowledge that there are many other practical uses for the technology. The Australian demonstration opened the door for a multitude of other uses in commerce and in national defense. Any small items can be delivered to anyone, anywhere in the world. The craft is not limited strictly to medical supplies. Rinaudo is aware of the fact that there are emerging markets that will end up using this technology, and if Zipline doesn’t enter into this arena, there will be some other companies that will.
17. Zipline is good for the economy
Although Zipline is either complementing the delivery services previously offered throughout the world, they’re not putting anyone out of business. Zipline works with shippers and carriers to complement services that are already in place, and in many cases, to replace the services when it’s too dangerous for people to make the trip. The company is saving lives in many different ways. In addition, Zipline is hiring local talent to provide high tech jobs for the people who live in the areas where the distribution centers have been established. They’re helping out with local job development as well as training for the new positions.
18. Zipline has the endorsement of civil air authorities
The staff of Zipline works hand in hand with their partners and with civil aviation authorities to ensure that all flights are legal and within the established regulations for the region. Since some areas have their own local air traffic with commercial flights, it is necessary to ensure that the flight paths are designed to maintain the safety of the surrounding airspace to avoid potential air catastrophes. Civil Aviation authorities in each region are working with Zipline.
19. Zipline is a privately held company
Zipline is backed by venture capital investors. It is a privately held company that has raised more than $300 million in funding so far. Investors include Katalyst Ventures, Baillie Gifford, Andreessen Horowitz, Temasek Holdings, Visionnaire Ventures, GV, Lerer Hippeau, SV Angel, Sequoia Capital, Sway Ventures, Tuesday Capital, and Slow Ventures. The company has not yet indicated an interest in filing for an IPO.
20. Zipline is a unicorn company
Zipline’s last funding round was completed in May of 2019. The event raised $190 million in venture capital funding. As of the most recent calculations including the last round of funding, Zipline has a valuation of $1.3 billion. This moves it well beyond the requirements for achieving its unicorn status.