Two decades into the 21st Century has allowed drone technology and unmanned aviation to flourish. Last week, automated logistics company Zipline announced that the fastest commercial delivery drone technology will soon take flight.
The California-based startup announced the launch of a new fleet of drones that they claim is the fastest on earth on April 3rd. The drones, which are autonomous and fixed-winged, can reportedly fly up to 128 kilometers per hour (79 miles per hour), which is 13 miles (21 kilometers) faster than the startup’s previous drones. The new fleet will be capable of carrying up to 1.75 kilograms (4 pounds) and can travel up to 160 kilometers (99 miles) in a single roundtrip.
Zipline has been flying delivery drones in Rwanda’s skies since 2016, shuttling blood and other medical supplies across the country. The startup’s CEO, Keller Rinaudo, said to Quartz that the company’s drones deliver up to 20 percent of the country’s blood supply to areas outside of the Rwandan capital of Kigali. So far, Zipline claims that its drones have delivered around 7,000 units of blood over over 4,000 delivery flights over a total of 300,000 kilometers (186,410 miles). Rinaudo also said that about one-third of those deliveries were life-saving missions.
The improvements in the new fleet are expected to to decrease the time between when Zipline receives an order and the drones take flight from 10 minutes to one minute. They’re also expected to extend their reach to 10 million people and increase the number of daily flights from 50 to 500.
A pilot program under the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced last year coincides with Zipline’s plans to expand its services to the United States. The program, the UAS Integration Pilot Program (UASIPP), will allow test flights for drones beyond the line of sight of the person operating the device, which wasn’t the case in years past. For Zipline, this will expedite the delivery service that the startup plans to begin in the United States.
Unlike in Rwanda, the United States does not have a national healthcare service, meaning Zipline will be working with private healthcare companies. These kinds of deliveries, however, will be similar to that of other ground delivery services like UPS, which Zipline already works with.
In addition to Zipline’s plans for the United States, the startup is also working on extending its medical delivery services to Tanzania.