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Super sustainable drones take net zero flight to new heights

Author : Sophia Bell, Group Editor, DPA

31 March 2023

Meet Zips: autonomous, electric drones that can deliver anything from life-saving blood transfusions to pepperoni pizza in a matter of minutes.

Zipline was founded in 2014 with the aim to create the first logistics system that serves all humans equally, making healthcare much more efficient and effective. It is designed to deliver to anywhere, from big cities to rural areas – and everywhere in between. 

Used by global businesses, governments and consumers around the world, this technology is transforming the way goods move – from powering Ghana’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution to providing on-demand home delivery for e-commerce, through to enabling US healthcare providers to bring care directly to homes. 

Zipline also supports healthcare in Rwanda, contributing to a 67 percent decrease in blood wastage across the country and reducing in-hospital maternal deaths from postpartum haemorrhage (PPH) by 88 percent.

“Every time I see the drones around, I just think that somebody’s life is going to be saved,” said one patient at a Rwanda hospital that benefits from the technology.

How does it work?
The technology is complex, and includes autonomous, electric drones, but the idea is simple: a teleportation service that delivers what you need, when you need it. 

It operates in four simple steps:
1) Order is placed: The fulfilment team receives the details and picks out the products accordingly
2) Order is packed: A flight operator quickly packs the drone with the order, and then carries out a safety and quality check
3) Zip takes off: The drone is in the air within a few minutes, moving autonomously towards its destination
4) Delivery: The order arrives at the right place, at the right time

Zipline has two delivery platforms: a long-range system, Platform 1, and its next-generation home delivery system, Platform 2. 

P1 Zips fly hundreds of feet in the air, lowering only briefly to deliver the package. This high altitude, combined with the propellors’ ‘aeroacoustic’ design means that they are able to operate extremely quietly.

Delivery from P2 ‘Zips’ is up to seven times faster than automobile delivery and can complete 10-mile deliveries within 10 minutes – travelling quietly at speeds of up to 70mph. Platform 2 includes a low-profile, easily attachable dock, where the drone lands, charges and lowers the delivery droid into the loading portal. 

A droid onboard the Zips allows for ultra-precise delivery, determining location down to a single centimetre to ensure packages are left exactly where they are supposed to go – whether that’s a doorstep or a patio table.

Streamlining sustainability
By transitioning to clean, electric, instant logistics, the company aims to decarbonise delivery, decrease road congestion, and reduce fossil fuel consumption and air pollution, while providing equitable access for billions of people. 

According to Zipline, its flights reduce the carbon emissions of deliveries by 97 percent compared to petrol cars, and are also far more efficient than electric vehicles.

Staying safe 
Safety is also a big priority: the Zips use multiple sensors that have the ability to monitor 360 degrees of airspace and can operate in all weather conditions – day or night – so that they can easily change their route to avoid hazards. 

And, in the event of an emergency, there is a backup parachute landing system to allow the drone to land gently and safely. 

Taking autonomous flight to new heights
So far, Zipline has made more than 540,000 deliveries to real customers, and currently completes one every 90 seconds. It has flown 40 million autonomous commercial miles and delivered almost five million products (including more than eight million vaccine doses). 

“By transitioning from carbon-intensive and inefficient automobiles to these fit-for-size, battery-powered Zips, we can decarbonise delivery, decrease road congestion, and reduce both fossil fuel consumption and air pollution,” said Zipline. 

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