Zipline (drone delivery)

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GenreDelivery drone
FounderKeller Rinaudo, Keenan Wyrobek
HeadquartersSouth San Francisco, California,
United States
Area served
Rwanda, Ghana, US
Number of employees
200 - 500

Zipline is an American medical product delivery company that is headquartered in South San Francisco, California, and designs, manufactures, and operates delivery drones. The company operates distribution centers in Rwanda, Ghana, and the US. As of February 2021, its drones have flown more than 4,000,000 miles and made nearly 400,000 deliveries in the last five years.[1]

The company's drones deliver whole blood, platelets, frozen plasma, and cryoprecipitate along with over 220 medical products, including vaccines, infusions and routine medical commodities. As of September 2021, more than 75% of blood deliveries in Rwanda outside of Kigali use Zipline drones. In April 2019 in Ghana, the company began using drones to deliver vaccines, blood, and medicines. During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted a Part 107 waiver to Zipline's partner organization Novant Health for the delivery of medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) to medical facilities in North Carolina.

Along with nine other drone delivery companies, the FAA selected Zipline to participate in a type certification program for delivery drones.[2]


In 2011, Keller Rinaudo founded Romotive, which produced an iPhone-controlled robotic toy called Romo.[3] In 2014, Romotive shut down[4] and the company focused on delivering medical supplies using drones. Co-founders Keenan Wyrobek and William Hetzler joined at this time.[5]

In 2016, Zipline signed a deal with the Rwandan government to build a distribution center near Muhanga.[5] The distribution site opened later that year and was inaugurated in a ceremony with Rwandan president Paul Kagame.[citation needed]

In April 2018, Zipline announced a second-generation drone,[6] which was listed in Time's "Best inventions of 2018" list.[7] In April 2019, Zipline opened the first of its four planned distribution centers in Ghana to supply 2,500 health facilities.[8] The fourth Ghanaian distribution center became operational in June 2020.[9]

In May 2019, Zipline raised $190 million on a post-money valuation of $1.2 billion.[10]In September 2019, musician Bono joined the board.[11] According to Rinaudo: "Rural healthcare is a challenge in every country in the world, including in the United States ... You now see much bigger and wealthier countries like the US using Rwanda as a role model."[12] Zipline was named CNBC's 2018 (25th place), 2019 (39th place), and 2020 (7th place)[13] on its Disruptor 50 list.[14]

In November 2020, Zipline along with other manufacturers started undergoing airworthiness certification with the FAA that would allow their "Sparrow" model of plane to fly in the US.[15][16] The following February, Zipline announced it was adding ultra-low temperature freezers to their distribution centers to allow them to deliver temperature-sensitive COVID-19 vaccines[17]

In May 2021, Bloomberg reported Zipline would be delivering vaccines to Cross River State and Northern Kaduna State in Nigeria.[18] The following month, Zipline raised $250 million in new funding at a valuation of $2.75 billion.[19]


The company designs and manufactures its drones,[20] and builds and operates its own distribution centers, which also serve as a drone airport.[21] Medical staff at remote hospitals and clinics place orders with Zipline,[22] a fulfillment operator receives this order and prepares the medical products into a special delivery package with a parachute.[21].

A Zipline flight operator then packs the medical products into a drone and performs pre-flight checks. The drone is then launched with a supercapacitor-powered electric catapult launcher and accelerates to 0 to 70 miles per hour (0 to 113 km/h) in 0.33 seconds.[21] The drone then flies itself to its delivery site while a remote pilot at each distribution center monitors all drones in flight.[23] [21] The drone descends to 20–35 metres (66–115 ft) before dropping the package under a paper parachute. A payload can land within a 5 m (16 ft) diameter landing zone.[5] The drone then returns to the distribution center and lands by catching an arresting gear.[24] [25] [26] A Zipline distribution center can deliver medical supplies reliably anywhere within 80 km (50 mi), even accounting for mountainous terrain and severe weather.

Drone specifications[edit]

The drone cruises at 101 km/h (63 mph) at an altitude of 80–120 metres (260–390 ft) above ground level, ensuring deliveries are made within 45 minutes[25] . The drone can carry up to 1.75 kilograms (3.9 lb) of cargo.[25] Each distribution center is capable of making 500 deliveries per day.[27] Zipline holds the record for the longest-range US-based commercial drone delivery flight of 79 mi (127 km)[28]

The drones have a quickly-replaceable battery that allows rapid turnaround between flights.[21] It has an inner carbon-fiber frame and an outer polystyrene shell.[21] The wingspan is 12 feet (3.7 m).[21]

The drones have two propellers for redundancy and can fly safely on a single propeller or motor. A parachute that will bring the drone to the ground can be deployed if a larger set of faults occur.[29] If the drone crashes, the outer components are frangible, breaking to release energy[30] and impact the ground with less force.[31]



Zipline operates four distribution centers in Ghana.[32] In April 2019, Ghana's president Nana Akufo-Addo announced the opening of a distribution center. [33] Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia launched the first Zipline drone to Tafo Hospital on April 24, 2019. This first delivery contained yellow fever vaccines to prevent stock-out.[34] The drones will serve 500 health facilities within an 80 km (50 mi) range. [34] The company has a contract with Ghana to make 600 deliveries a day for four years at the cost of about $12.5 million. [34] Each distribution center will house 30 drones.[35][36]

In June 2019, the company delivered oral rehydration salt (ORS) to treat 113 students of Mangoase Senior High School who were suffering from acute diarrhea. Within 20 minutes, Zipline's drone dispatched 125 doses of ORS.[37]


In September 2019, the government of Maharashtra announced Zipline would deliver emergency medicine throughout the country. The proposed deployment includes the building of 10 distribution centers to serve 120 million people.[38]


In February 2021, Zipline announced a plan to construct three distribution centers in Kaduna State, Nigeria.[39] These distribution centers would have ultra-cold storage that is capable of safely storing COVID-19 vaccines, for which health facilities in the state could then place on-demand orders without needing ultra-cold storage of their own. The state also intends to use Zipline's service to transport other health products, including blood, medication, and routine vaccines.


In December 2019, Bono announced Zipline would open three distribution centers in Visayas, Philippines, to cover hard-to-reach areas. [40]


The company operates two distribution centers in Rwanda [27][25] and began deliveries in Muhanga in late 2016.[5] Rwanda has mountainous geography and poor road conditions, making an aerial delivery system more efficient than the use of land vehicles.[41] The cost of delivery via drone is comparable to that of delivery by road, especially in emergencies. [42] A second drone-launching site was added in December 2018 in Kayonza, in the eastern part of the country.[43][8] The company hoped this would bring coverage to 80% of the country. [44] Kayonza is in a busy area with other flights and military camps, which adds to the challenge of monitoring its drones.[43] As of September 2019, the company had made 20,000 blood deliveries and had flown more than 1,000,000 km (620,000 mi).[8] As of May 2019, more than 65% of blood deliveries in Rwanda outside of the capital city Kigali use Zipline drones. [45]

United States[edit]

Zipline is working with the FAA to develop rules for drone operation beyond the line of sight.[12][46] Between July 30 and September 5, 2019, Zipline partnered with the US and Australian militaries, delivering over 400 mock blood supplies during mass casualty simulations.[47]

During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the FAA granted a Part 107 waiver to Novant Health in partnership with Zipline for the delivery of medical supplies and personal protective equipment to facilities in North Carolina. The company plans to offer deliveries to homes.[48] In September 2020, announced a trial with Walmart stores to deliver goods in Arkansas starting in 2021.[49]

Distribution center locations[edit]

Location Country Administrative Division Opened Notes
Muhanga Rwanda Southern Province October 13, 2016 Zipline's first production distribution center
Kayonza Rwanda Eastern Province March 1, 2019
Omenako Ghana Eastern Region[50] April 19, 2019
Ashanti Mampong Ghana Ashanti Region[51] October 19, 2019
Vobsi Ghana North East Region[52] December 21, 2019
Kannapolis US North Carolina[53] May 22, 2020
Sefwi Wiawso Ghana Western North Region May 22, 2020
Pune India Maharashtra proposed[27] awaiting approval to fly from DGCAIndia and MoCA_GoI[54]
Nandurbar India Maharashtra proposed[27] awaiting approval to fly from DGCAIndia and MoCA_GoI
Nandurbar India Maharashtra proposed[27] awaiting approval to fly from DGCAIndia and MoCA_GoI
Visayas Philippines proposed[55]
Kachia Nigeria Kaduna State proposed[56]
Kaduna Nigeria Kaduna State proposed[56]
Birnin Gwari Nigeria Kaduna State proposed[56]


Zipline plans to start transporting COVID-19 vaccines in April, 2021 everywhere its drones currently operate and is adding ultra-cold storage at all of its distribution centers.[1] Clinics should be able to receive vaccine doses at an ultra-low temperature in less than an hour.[1]


Zipline raised $233 million by May 2020 and another $250 million in June 2021.[57][19]


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