How Zipline is using drone technology to tackle COVID-19

1 min read
16 Dec 2020

s the COVID-19 pandemic has made plain, quick and reliable access to medical supplies can mean the difference between life and death. Drone technology is helping one startup make that difference.

San Francisco-based Zipline delivers blood, antivenom, vaccines and more by drones, providing supplies to medical facilities in remote and hard-to-reach places and in difficult weather conditions. Doctors use an app to order what they need, then an autonomous drone delivers the requested medicines, PPE and specialist supplies.

In 2016, the Government of Rwanda partnered with Zipline to provide blood supplies to rural areas. Blood is one of the most vital medical supplies. Without it, surgery is dangerous if not impossible. In rural Africa, where access to blood was difficult, severe bleeding after childbirth could mean maternal fatality. The company now also supplies over 2,500 health facilities in Ghana, and it also operates in the US, proving that such services are relevant in both developed and developing economies.

Zipline was founded in 2011 as Romotive, which produced an iPhone-controlled robotic toy. In 2014, it refocused on delivering medical supplies using drones and has since raised over $233 million over the course of five funding rounds. In May 2019, it became a unicorn with a $1.2 billion valuation by investors. But it was in 2020 that the company demonstrated even more value. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, Zipline’s drones transported test samples from Ghana distribution centers to testing locations. In the US, the company enabled the launch of an emergency drone logistics operation for hospital pandemic response. Responding to calls from healthcare providers, it collects samples, packages them safely, and flies them to where they can be tested – saving precious time and costs incurred by the healthcare system. 

As new treatments and vaccines become available, Zipline is continuing its efforts to improve access to medical supplies. Its medical drone delivery service could help make sure distribution of vital vaccines is targeted to the people and populations that need it most, helping to save lives and prevent further outbreaks.

Written by Cayleigh Bright.

Repackaged by Hazel Boydell.

All Photos: Zipline