To help fight the rapidly spreading Coronavirus, Zipline will bring its medical drones to the U.S. Until now, the company has been most active in a number of African countries, most notably in Rwanda where it has successfully completed over 34,000 deliveries by drone by now.
In Rwanda and Ghana where Zipline is currently operational with their medical drone delivery services, the company is able to deliver gloves, masks and other medical supplies to regional hospitals in a matter of minutes. Since the packages are dropped when the drone is flying over the delivery location, human contact is limited and thus the risk of spreading a virus as well.
The medical drone delivery service from Zipline is also beneficial for larger hospitals as it can deliver supplies for medical procedures, for instance blood for surgeries, on an as-needed basis.
“We’ve been able to expand the range of services available at much smaller clinics located in areas much further away from the big regional hospitals,” says Justin Hamilton, global head of communications for the company. “In the past, if you needed a certain level of care, the only place you could get it was the hospital. Now, because you can go to a clinic closer to home, that helps free up capacity at the hospital to deal with larger emergencies and make sure that that bed space is reserved for somebody who might need it.”
Zipline is ready to deploy its medical delivery drone to the U.S.
Zipline already saw opportunities for its services here in the U.S. but now that the country has more confirmed Coronavirus cases than any other country in the world, the opportunities are all the more apparent.
The California-based drone company has not yet outlined how the drones would deliver medical supplies in the U.S. In Africa, Zipline deliver directly to hospitals and smaller medical clinics, but the company is also looking to making deliveries directly to people’s home here.
“There are tens of millions of Americans with chronic and underlying conditions that require regular medical care, consultations, trips to the hospitals, and specialty pharmaceuticals,” Hamilton says. “Because COVID-19 is going to overwhelm the health system, that means that these chronic care patients can’t go to the hospital, both because they’re at higher risk for infection and death, and because there’s just no, there’s no capacity to help them at the moment. What we’re seeing is, I think, a big surge in the idea of telemedicine.”
Zipline’s medical drones could also help in delivering masks and other personal protective equipment as well as vaccines to areas where these items are most needed.
“You have to have a way to very rapidly distribute a very, very scarce but lifesaving commodity over very, very large geographies, in real time, and ideally in a contactless way that maintains social distancing and does not require humans to operate,” he says. “And we can do that.”
Zipline’s medical drone delivery system could be operational in the U.S. very quickly, once it receives approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). In 2019, the company tested with the Department of Defense to show how their drones could quickly deliver medical supplies on the battlefield or in an disaster area. Within a matter of weeks, Zipline had their drone delivery services operational, FastCompany reports.
Interestingly, today during our weekly news show recording, Paul from The Drone U and I were talking about how the Coronavirus crisis may help to make the benefits that drones can bring to society more apparent. We have already seen how drones are being used to spray disinfectants, instruct people to stay inside in Spain, and now Zipline may be able to show us how drones can bring medical supplies to people in need in a fast, affordable and safe way. I’m hoping that the FAA will find a way to approve their services quickly!
Photo credits: Zipline