On the heels of news that drone deliveries are coming to Iceland, drone delivery startup Zipline announced that it is expanding to Tanzania.
Beginning in the first quarter of 2018, the Tanzanian government will begin using Zipline’s drones to make up to 2,000 deliveries per day to more than 1,000 health facilities, in a move that could serve 10 million people across the country.
Unlike companies like Flytrex, Flirtey or Amazon which promise speedy deliveries on consumer goods and even hot food, Zipline has focused its delivery efforts on medical deliveries.
In Tanzania, Zipline’s drones will deliver blood transfusion supplies, emergency vaccines, HIV medications, antimalarials and othermedical supplies like sutures and IV tubes, via four distribution centers across the country in the capital of Dodomoa as well as near Mwanza, Lake Victoria and Mbeya.
Each of the four distribution centers will be equipped with up to 30 drones which are capable of carrying about three pounds of cargo.
Here’s how it works: Health workers place delivery orders by text message. Zipline’s drone then takes off from the distribution center. The drone then flies over the medical clinic, air dropping the medicine to a designated spot near the health centers. The drone then flies back to the distribution center where it lands and is reloaded.
Commercial drone deliveries of consumer goods have not taken off as widely as some industry experts had expected. Deliveries from many companies haven’t been much beyond one-off stunt flights. Most famously, Flirtey has taken credit for the first-ship-to-shore drone delivery, the first FAA-approved drone delivery to a customer’s home and the first urban drone delivery, though the company has never done any large-scale deliveries.
Amazon also went to great lengths to tout its first delivery to a home near Cambridge in the U.K., but its drone delivery service currently only services two customers. And X (formerly known as Google)’s Project Wing delivered Chipotle burritos to college students in Virginia, but those drones didn’t fly much farther than down a hill. Those companies are typically held back by regulatory hurdles, preventing them from things like flying beyond line of site or over people.
But the non-profit, humanitarian sector may be looking at more success with drone deliveries.
Matternet CEO Andreas Raptopoulos said that in countries where there is a pressing need, regulatory hurdles are generally overcome more quickly.
In October of 2016, Zipline and the Government of Rwanda launched a drone delivery service to make on-demand emergency blood deliveries to transfusion clinics across the country. Over the past year, Zipline has flown 1,400 flights to deliver 2,600 units of blood. Another group, WeRobotics, is making deliveries via drone over the rainforests of Peru. Those drones fly a route that typically lasts 6 hours via canoe but can be done via drone in 35 minutes.
Zipline is a California-based startup, and it has received $41 million in eight rounds of funding from investors including Andreessen Horowitz and Sequoia Capital.