Zipline: Drones Could Begin Helping U.S. Hospitals Respond to Covid-19 Now

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delivery drone(News and Commentary). Drone delivery heroes Zipline are already performing thousands of lifesaving drone delivery flights every day in Africa.  The world’s largest drone delivery network, Zipline can boast more than 1 million autonomous commercial delivery miles flown.  They are the world’s experts on delivering medical supplies like vaccines, blood and critical medicines, regardless of environment.  They know how to set up bases, scale operations quickly, and work with regulatory agencies.  When a base is established, says Zipline, “Each base can make up to 150 deliveries a day, and autonomously micro-target the delivery of more than two tons of cargo a week across an 8,000 sqm area…We can fly more than 20 drones at a time from each base simultaneously taking off, landing and delivering to separate points across an 8,000 square mile area.”

DRONELIFE has had the opportunity to see Zipline’s base of operations in Rwanda – and it’s an impressive and efficient operation, one that has moved well beyond a test case scenario to a mission-critical piece of the health care system.  Zipline has logged thousands of flights proving that the system is repeatable, reliable, and safe.

The Covid-19 Response in the Countries Zipline Serves

Zipline is already helping with Covid-19 response internationally – and they could bring these capabilities anywhere.  The company points out ways in which their robust drone delivery system is assisting with the Covid-19 crisis:

  • Demand for certain supplies or tests can act as an early warning system for potential outbreak hotspots that provides decision-makers with real-time visibility into demand across the health system;
  • Delivering supplies for a variety of medical issues can reduce hospital overcrowding and free up beds for patients who truly need them by pushing care for non-urgent patients closer to where they live (which also helps reduce their risk of exposure);
  • Using drones instead of delivery trucks helps reduce the risk of increased exposure, especially when delivering supplies to quarantined families;
  • Social distancing and lockdowns have put a dangerous strain on national blood supplies around the world: but through central storage and just-in-time delivery, Zipline can increase patient access to blood and reduce waste;
  • Zipline holds emergency stocks of scarce personal protection equipment, like gloves and masks: which allows health authorities to target distribution to regional providers on an as-needed basis.  (This has already proven a major problem in the U.S., where unequal distribution has led to recommendations that some health care providers reuse equipment or even use bandanas as a substitute.);
  • New vaccines, test kits, and other innovations can be added to Zipline’s inventory as soon as they are available, and delivered in real-time to help meet extraordinary needs.

The Covid-19 Response in the U.S.: Green Light Needed

Drone delivery has made progress in the U.S. – and prior to the current COVID19 crisis, Zipline planned to launch in the U.S. this fall. That timeline could, however, be pushed forward with a green light from regulators: “We believe COVID19 presents such an imminent threat to the U.S. healthcare system that we’d accelerate our U.S. launch plans to being helping right away,” says Zipline.

“We have health system partners ready to go, we’re ready to go and we have communities that tell us they’re eager for the help. Zipline could begin serving patients and hospitals in the United States within weeks of getting the green light.”

The company outlines the ways in which the drone delivery system could make a big difference in Covid-19 response in the U.S.  Delivery of care supplies to regional health centers could mean that non-Covid-19 patients could receive care closer to home – freeing up needed hospital beds in urban areas.  The delivery system could help fairly and efficiently deliver scarce resources like personal protective equipment and test kits across the health system.  And, once a Covid-19 vaccine is developed, Zipline’s rapid response will be able to help target distribution where and when it’s needed.

As the numbers of patients affected in the U.S. mount and supply systems across the country are strained, it’s time to use all of the tools at our disposal – and drone delivery is one of them.


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