OhioHealth Zipline autoloader

Zipline dives into healthcare drone deliveries — and they’re in the U.S.

California-based drone delivery giant is going back to its roots in making healthcare-related drone deliveries. The company first made a name for itself flying medical supplies to remote areas in Rwanda, before expanding to other developing countries including Ghana and Nigeria. This week, Zipline announced a new healthcare drone delivery project. But this time, it’s happening in the U.S., and it’s being conducted in partnership with OhioHealth.

Zipline and OhioHealth this week announced a partnership where Zipline’s fully electric drone delivery service would integrate into OhioHealth’s network to bring prescriptions directly to patients’ homes, as well as to move lab samples and supplies between OhioHealth facilities.

How the OhioHealth drone deliveries will work

A Zipline droid in the loader. Photo courtesy of Zipline.

The deliveries rely upon Zipline’s newly-introduced Platform 2, which debuted earlier this spring. With the Platform 2, autonomous, electric Zipline drones (which the company calls Zips) can quickly deliver products to precise locations throughout rural, suburban, and even dense urban areas.

Unlike other drone delivery services, Zips fly more than 300 feet above the ground — which serves a few beneficial purposes, namely mitigating noise.

To actually make the delivery, the Zip hovers at its same altitude (typically 300 feet or more). From there, another autonomous delivery droid maneuvers down a tether, steers to the correct location, and drops off its package to its designated location. Those locations tend to be quite precise, and can include areas as small as a patio table or a home’s front porch steps.

What are the benefits of healthcare drone deliveries?

Unlike food deliveries which might be more of a cool party trick than anything, Zipline points to the benefits of drone deliveries in the healthcare space, including offering increased access to care, and improved diagnostic turnaround times. One set of research from the University of Pennsylvania even found an 88% reduction of in-hospital maternal deaths from to postpartum hemorrhage as a result of Zipline’s delivery drones.

“We’re able to move lab samples between facilities in minutes and at a moment’s notice, instead of the hours it can currently take,” said Hillary Brendzel, Head of Zipline’s U.S. Healthcare Practice.

On the environmental end, drone delivery may result in a reduction in emissions, given that Zipline’s platform is fully-electric. According to Zipline’s internal research, its first platform reduces emissions by up to 97% compared to traditional automotive delivery methods. OhioHealth Vice President of Pharmacy Services Charles McCluskey III even said that drone deliveries use less carbon intensive packing materials compared to traditional delivery methods.

Staff members prepare a drone for the delivery of medical supplies at a Zipline base in Ghana in 2019. (Photo by Ruth McDowall / AFP)

What’s next for OhioHealth and Zipline?

The duo said they expect that Zipline’s drones could reach roughly 2 million people in the greater Columbus, Ohio area by 2025.

Of course, the OhioHealth partnership is far from Zipline’s only focus. In fact, Zipline — which is largely considered the largest drone delivery company in the world — operates in three continents and claims that it completes a delivery every 90 seconds.

While medical-related drone deliveries within developing countries are at the core of Zipline, the company has increasingly been turning its attention to U.S.-based deliveries, as evidenced by the OhioHealth partnership. Other Zipline medical partners in the U.S. include Michigan Medicine, MultiCare Health Systems and Intermountain Health.

Zipline has also recently gotten into retail and fast food deliveries, something its competitors had long done but it had abstained from (until this year). In 2023, it announced a partnership with bougie salad maker Sweetgreen, suggesting that it would begin executing salad deliveries via drone by 2024. And just a couple months later, it announced that it would fly protein powder through the year (among other goods) as part of a partnership with GNC.

Those retail and food deliveries more closely align Zipline with other American drone delivery companies like DroneUp (which will bring you stuff from Walmart) and Google-sibling Wing, which recently announced it would deliver food together with DoorDash.

Whether retail, medical or edible, Zipline has its sights set to stay big, and get bigge. In fact, Zipline has said that it expects to operate more flights annually than most major U.S. airlines by year 2025. For context, Southwest Airlines, which is the largest U.S. airline by number of actual departures, conducted 1.267 million flights in 2022.

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