With the aim of providing every human being on earth, instant access to vital medical supplies, Zipline – a drone startup first launched in Rwanda, East Africa – built the world's fastest and most reliable delivery drone along with the largest autonomous logistics network. Today, Zipline operates across multiple countries, delivering critical, lifesaving products, safely and reliably, when and where they are needed. The company uses fully autonomous (i.e. no pilot), fixed-wing drones to deliver 1.8 kilos of load using a parachute, over a distance of up to a 300-kilometer round trip, through any weather condition. To date, the company has made about 41,000 deliveries. In April 2019, they expanded their operations to Ghana, serving about 2500 hospitals and health facilities across Rwanda and Ghana. In the areas it operates, the company has been a valuable asset, not only in blood delivery but also in the delivery of essential protection gears in the fight against #COVID-19.
In light of this pandemic, one can easily feel like drones were built for this moment as other small drone companies like Everdrone or Matternet are also at the forefront of the battle against COVID-19.
Today's drone delivery environment offers a wide range of opportunities, not only in the healthcare industry but also in the delivery of parcels such as groceries or other essential items. It would help limit human contact, thus reducing the spread of the virus. Although tech giants such as Amazon (Prime Air), are still struggling to get their first drone delivery off the ground, it may only be a matter of time before we see our skies full of drones, delivering goods to customers. On the other hand, Google (using Wing) wants to see drone delivery for everything, from hot coffee to fresh bread. The company has partnered with a couple of small bakeries in Australia, Finland, and Christianburg (A small town in the state of Virginia - US), making more than 1000 deliveries in a two-week period.
But with these encouraging prospects, comes a few challenges that need to be addressed. How will it all be regulated?
All over the world, different countries have different regulations regarding drone operations. The most common, prohibit actions of flying the drone over long distances, where the drone is out of sight or operated over private residences. A permit must be issued in specific cases. For instance, oil companies would need permits to fly their drones for land scouting. In all cases, the air space is controlled and drones can only fly up to a restricted altitude. With an operation like Zipline in Rwanda, the government's deep involvement made it possible for the company to operate freely for the good of the people. However, with personal drones being used for leisure and videography, without proper regulations in place, we might experience various accidents in the sky. Also taking into account the nature of parachute package delivery over customers' houses, we would need to cater for the most vulnerable among us (i.e. children running around the backyard or the elderly), to avoid physical injuries.
As the race to dominate the drone delivery market continues, Africa is placed a step ahead through Zipline, proving that we are yet to discover the hidden technological potential within the continent.