Drone delivery pioneer, Zipline, revealed its latest aircraft, Platform 2, on Wednesday. Platform 2 combines fixed-wing flight with hovering propellers, allowing a small “droid” to lower packages from 330 feet onto driveways, sidewalks, or other open areas.
Since 2016, the San Francisco-based company has made a lot of progress in the rapidly growing market for drone deliveries. With its first-generation delivery drones, the company has successfully made over 500,000 deliveries, mostly in Rwanda and Ghana but also in Utah, Arkansas, and North Carolina.
Zipline's Platform 2 delivery drone
Compared to Zipline's first drone delivery system, Platform 2 is more innovative because it can hover in place and lower packages using a tether simultaneously. This makes it more appealing to a wider range of customers and increases its potential market share.
“We have built the closest thing to teleportation ever created – a smooth, ultrafast, convenient, and truly magical autonomous logistics system that serves all people equally, wherever they are,” said Keller Rinaudo Cliffton, co-founder, and CEO of Zipline, in a statement.
Although the first iteration of Platform 1's fixed-wing design is efficient, the process of dropping packages by parachute requires an open area that is the size of two parking lots.
“Our next-generation platform will enable us to operate with the precision needed to fly safely into more complex environments and over more highly populated areas,” Okeoma Moronu, Zipline's leader of aviation regulatory affairs, said.
Sweetgreen for food delivery, Michigan Medicine and Intermountain Health for prescription deliveries, MultiCare Health System for medical devices, and the Rwandan government for residential, hotel, and medical facility deliveries in Kigali are among the customers who plan to use Zipline's new Platform 2 drones.
Wing, Alphabet's drone delivery division, has previously used tethers. Zipline's droid, on the other hand, has three propellers, allowing for a smaller delivery area of about 6 feet, even in rain, darkness, and high winds.
In addition to worries about safety and privacy, money, and getting permission from the government, noise is one of the problems. As a result of the longer tether, noise levels have been reduced to something resembling the sound of rustling leaves, which addresses a key concern regarding drone deliveries.
In preparation for a 10,000-flight test program that will begin later this year, Zipline intends to construct a fleet of one hundred Platform 2 aircraft, also known as Zips and droids.
The company anticipates beginning customer deliveries by the beginning of 2024, with Platform 1 drones continuing for longer-range deliveries.
Drone deliveries beyond visual line of sight
Zipline is also trying to get approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for flights that happen beyond the pilot's line of sight (BVLOS). This is an essential step for growing the drone delivery business in the US.
The second-generation drones used by Zipline can carry payloads of up to 8 pounds, making them ideal for delivering medical supplies, restaurant meals, groceries, and other items of a similar size.
The maximum distance that the drone can travel from its hub is 10 miles, and it can travel up to 24 miles on longer flights. This increased range will make it easier to make the transition from operations based on a hub-and-spoke model to those based on a network with multiple hubs and docking stations, which is a style of operation similar to that utilized by Wing.
“The reason that number is important, is that when you look at e-commerce in the US, a vast majority of packages weigh five pounds or less,” said Rinaudo Cliffton.
The head of engineering at Zipline, Jo Mardall, explained that the company's next-generation platform would function as a point-to-point network, with docks dispersed across a variety of locations such as restaurants, stores, and warehouses.
“Just like modern cars use sensors and cameras to understand the world around it, our droid will have a robust onboard sensor suite, including GPS and visual sensors, which it will use to maneuver and help ensure a delivery site is free from kids, dogs or other obstacles,” Jo Mardall, head of engineering at Zipline reportedly said.
When a drone reaches a dock, it will charge its batteries and then lower itself so that it can be loaded. The software utilized by Zipline ensures automatic network distribution and directs Zips to the dock that is best suited to their needs, whether that be for recharging or for order pickup.
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