Profile: 'Zipline' Advances Medical Treatment Using Drone Technology

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For the past few decades, the use of drones has been increased and those who use drones can range from e-commerce companies such as Amazon to the U.S. military. However, a startup based in San Francisco that specializes in healthcare and medicine is transforming how medical supplies can be delivered to disadvantaged villagers in Rwanda.

Zipline was founded in 2016 by CEO Keller Rinaudo and since then, it has changed (and saved) the lives of millions of Rwandans by delivering thousands of units of blood to health facilities in their villages. Most of these villages are located in remote areas where the closest hospital or clinic can take hours to reach by car. The drone that Zipline has contributed most of its success to is called, “Zip”, a plane-like drone that goes up to 68 miles per hour and conducts 50 flights a day to deliver medical supplies to the health facilities in the villages, as quickly as 30 minutes.

According to CNBC, the startup just unveiled its new drone called, “Zip 2” in which it can not only go as fast as 80 miles per hour, but it can conduct up to 500 flights a day and cover over a hundred miles, especially since Zipline is planning to start operations in Tanzania as well. Before the drones are sent out to deliver medical supplies in Rwanda, they would have to undergo flight tests in a testing facility in California’s Central Valley to see if the drone’s systems are in check and the technologies used are still operational.

TechCrunch reported that Biplane has raised $25 million in a Series B funding round to expand its drone delivery services. The Series B funding had brought Zipline’s total capital to $43 million and the funding was assisted by Visionnaire Ventures, Sequoia Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, Subtraction Capital, and Jerry Yang. Keller Rinaudo, the CEO of Zipline, had mentioned on TechCrunch that as dinner was delivered by companies like Doordash and groceries from Instacart, Zipline is doing the same with medical supplies to underprivileged villagers in Central Africa.

As mentioned earlier, Zipline is planning to expand its services in Tanzania to go along with its current operations in Rwanda. However, the startup does want to reach out to underprivileged neighborhoods in the United States as well. According to Wired, Keller Rinaudo said the same type of medical delivery service that is used in Rwanda can be used in this country. One would have to be aware that unlike Rwanda, the United States is a very vast country and many underprivileged communities are scattered throughout all of the 50 states, which can make the drones' jobs somewhat time-consuming.

One thing that Zipline should consider when trying to conduct supply deliveries via drone in the United States is that the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) is cautious when it comes to overseeing drone operations. CNBC has stated that Zipline is now part of a pilot program enacted by the FAA in which if Zipline meets the qualifications, it can deliver medical supplies to specific areas in 30 minutes or less, just like what the startup is still doing right now in Rwanda. If Zipline’s operations can succeed well in its supply deliveries, it may be in a position to top similar services that have been experimented by competitors such as Walmart, Amazon, and Google

Zipline’s services have also provided an emotional attachment to the people it helps with. On Zipline’s website, viewers can see the stories of villagers who have seen their lives changed and improved ever since Zipline began operating in Rwanda. Jackline     Ugirambabazi, who received a blood transfusion from Zipline 30 minutes after giving birth, said, “I’m grateful for the way Zipline is saving people, especially women during childbirth.” These stories provide proof that Zipline is a startup that can influence people from different age groups and backgrounds, whether if they’re millennials whose careers are just starting to take shape or experienced professionals who may consider Zipline to be a startup they want to invest in.

Before the medical supplies can get delivered to the village health facilities, they would be stored in Zipline’s Medicine Distribution Center. Among the many supplies at the center are pouches of donated blood and vaccines that are necessary for the villagers who need them the most to help them and their family to survive. Shortly after the hospital staff notifies Zipline about the medical supplies they just ordered, the supplies would then be packaged and stored properly as they get set to be delivered by a drone. The hospital staff would then get a text message that notifies them about the supplies’ arrival and the arrival time is usually around 30 minutes, which is a good time to rescue villagers who are in need of medical help.

For a startup that only started its Rwandan operations two years ago, Zipline has done a tremendous job in changing how the healthcare industry can conduct its services in developing countries. By combining the newest innovation in drone technology with a desire to improve the lives of those living in unfortunate conditions, Zipline is leading the way in drone supply delivery and could inspire other aspiring entrepreneurs who also want to deliver medical supplies to underprivileged people as well as pushing the boundries of what society can do with drone technology.