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Start-up of the Week: The ‘Zipline’ way of serving humanity through drone-powered logistics

Zipline has made over 540,000 deliveries to customers, with an astounding rate of one every 90 seconds

In today’s episode of the “Start-up of the Week,” International Finance will talk about United States-based Zipline, which was founded in 2014 with the vision of creating the first logistics system that will serve all humans equally.

As of May 2024, the venture has transformed itself into a major name in the logistics sector by designing, manufacturing and operating the world’s largest instant logistics and delivery system that has emerged as the first choice among businesses, governments and consumers, especially in Africa.

Zipline operates on three continents, North America, Africa and Asia, along with seven countries, Rwanda, Ghana, the United States, Nigeria, Japan, Kenya and Cote D’Ivoire (Ivory Coast).

Knowing Things In Detail

Zipline has made over 540,000 deliveries to customers, with an astounding rate of one every 90 seconds. The start-up has flown 60 million autonomous commercial miles, apart from delivering almost five million products, including more than eight million vaccine doses.

Zipline, which originally started its operations in the form of delivering blood and medical products in Rwanda, has since expanded its presence to sectors like food, retail, agriculture, and animal health. Zipline has two platforms, one for long-range delivery and the other for precise home delivery.

Opting for Zipline’s services helps its customers save lives, reduce emissions, increase economic opportunity, and provide new logistics services at scale.

Talking about Zipline’s in-house technology and products, let’s meet Zips, drones that make product deliveries. The product has been tailored for conducting precise deliveries irrespective of the weather conditions.

Zips are of two types: Platform One and Platform Two. Platform One’s operating principle revolves around the venture’s specially designed parachute delivery mechanism, which ensures seamless delivery for consignments carrying delicate and perishable goods. The drones operate on a smart launch and recovery system that also prioritises efficiency and area coverage.

Talking about Platform Two, its operational mechanism involves a low-profile dock, where the drone lands, charges and lowers the delivery droid into the loading portal. The drone uses onboard perception to leave packages exactly where they are supposed to be delivered. They also use multiple sensing technologies, with the ability to monitor 360* airspace. These sensors reach over a mile away, be it day/night, irrespective of the weather conditions, thereby adapting to the delivery routes easily.

Another component of the engineering is “Fleet Deconfliction,” which, aided by the start-up’s fleet management software, autonomously coordinates the traffic of the Zip drones, thereby limiting congestion along the route. The same component also helps the drones to directly communicate with each other.

Zipline also created software, where its business partners access and manage their Zipline services from one dashboard. The start-up’s single and easy-to-use app also makes it easy for people to order whatever they need, and track those orders in real-time. The venture has developed its custom fulfilment apps, which are helping its business partners stay on top of every part of their operation, from shipping to inventory to customer care.

Changing The Logistics Game

Zipline’s drone fleet ensures that customers can track and receive their deliveries in just minutes, from store to door. The drones, travelling at the maximum speed of 70 mph, pick up deliveries within minutes, start their journey, identify a precise and safe delivery spot and conduct their landings. The entire procedure also ensures low operational costs (no surge-spike fees) and higher delivery numbers for the businesses.

While Zipline has partners like “Walmart” and “Michigun Medicine” opting for the start-up’s “Instant Delivery” services, the venture’s “Smart Fulfilment” has clients like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Pfizer and Gavi.

Talking about “Smart Fulfilment,” it’s basically an end-to-end, storage, packing and drone delivery service offered by the venture. Under it, Zipline has so far delivered over five million products, with its smart warehousing methods having the ability to store goods at variable temperatures.

Zipline stores products according to food, medical, and other safety standards, after orders are received at Zipline’s facility online or with a messaging app. While the venture’s specially trained staff pick out the items and pack them for delivery, the fulfilment experts do a final standard quality and safety check. Zipline’s storage technology is also compliant with regulations which govern food safety and medical-grade cold chain activities.

What are the advantages Zipline’s business partners are getting by availing the start-up’s storage and fulfilment services? Resource efficiency, decreased wastage and overstocking, increased product availability and cost savings. Also, the business partners can ensure expanded coverage for their product deliveries, exploring new clients and growth regions in the process. Zipline also uses digitised planning and forecasting methods, powered by data insights and these help further to keep the overall delivery and fulfilment costs low and competitive.

Changing The Industry Playbooks

As of May 2024, Zipline is delivering products related to a massive gamut of industries, be it public healthcare, hospitality, agriculture or e-commerce. And how is it helping those industries?

Let’s take the healthcare sector for example. Zipline is making healthcare more effective, accessible, and efficient for everyone, from providers and payers to patients and caregivers, through its fast product deliveries. Availing the start-up’s solutions helps a medical facility build a comprehensive healthcare system that can deliver prescriptions within minutes of a telehealth appointment. The medical staff can send chemotherapy cocktails straight to patient homes. They can also transport labs instantly for faster diagnoses and better care.

Apart from ensuring cheaper product deliveries (cheaper than ground logistics), avoiding product loss/spoilage with end-to-end cold chain and ensuring safe delivery with advanced chain-of-custody tools, the hospital can also expand access and build new care capabilities with Zipline’s instant drone delivery.

Zipline connects directly to the medical facility’s operations to make them faster and more efficient. The start-up’s simple API integrations sync with the hospital’s software to make tracking and managing orders easy.

A very good case study here has been Michigan Medicine, a leading academic medical centre, which needed a reliable, scalable way to quickly deliver prescriptions directly to patients and transport lab samples between facilities. Zipline stepped in with its instant logistics technology, which helped the facility to game up its distribution and delivery network. Michigan Medicine has doubled its prescriptions, providing better care for hundreds of thousands of patients in their area.

The Rwanda Success

Talking about Zipline’s game-changing contributions to public healthcare, a mention must be made of the differences made by them in the African country of Rwanda.

With Zipline’s smart fulfilment, deliveries are taking minutes, ensuring healthcare products are not being wasted sitting on a shelf, and people access reliable healthcare. Overall performance and transparency have been driven upwards across the whole ecosystem, from middle-mile logistics to last-mile delivery. Reliable nationwide logistics networks are there with cold-chain capabilities.

In Rwanda, the incidents of wastage of blood products have been reduced by 67%. Maternal deaths due to postpartum haemorrhage in Rwandan hospitals, served by Zipline, have shown a 51% reduction. There is a 42% less likely chance of patients missing vaccination opportunities, all thanks to Zipline.

Zipline’s fulfilment and delivery system ensures safe and efficient transport, less waste, and maximum product effectiveness, even for points of care without on-site refrigeration. The cold-chain warehouses are keeping orders at -20ºC for 12 hours or 2-6ºC for 48 hours, apart from eliminating complexity with simpler packaging requirements.

The venture is also helping Rwandan health workers and supply managers to track, manage, and order inventory easily, apart from accessing smart data to analyse and improve operations over time.

Rwanda was battling product shortages, excess wastage, and supply chain inefficiencies serving its health facilities. Reliance on regional warehouses and bulk ground delivery over difficult terrain meant that commodities could often be out of stock or several hours away.

Zipline turned things into instant and on-demand deliveries to health facilities and points of care across the country, starting with the blood products supply chain. From platelets and plasma to cancer medications, vaccines, and anti-venom, commodities are now centralised at Zipline’s warehouses and distributed as needed in under an hour.

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