Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on FreightWaves.com.
After completing its 500,000th delivery in January, one of drone delivery’s titans is still not satisfied.
South San Francisco, California-based Zipline recently unveiled a brand new autonomous drone delivery system built around Platform 2 (P2), the firm’s next-generation hardware and software technology.
With P2, Zipline’s drones, or Zips, will travel more swiftly and silently, capable of completing a 10-mile delivery in 10 minutes — about seven times faster than traditional automobile deliveries — while making less noise than a breeze rustling through leaves. They’ll have a maximum payload of 8 pounds, allowing them to carry items like medical supplies and food.
But unlike Zipline’s previous system, P2 is designed to enable home deliveries using a new drop-off method.
Until now, the company used parachutes to airdrop orders to customers. But P2 will instead feature a unique tether system. A delivery “droid” about the size of a microwave oven is lowered down on a wire, autonomously guides itself to the precise delivery location and drops off the package at the customer’s front door or in their backyard.
P2 will also upgrade the retailer’s side of the delivery network. It will feature asset-light, dual-use docking and charging hardware that businesses can attach directly to a building.
It’s essentially a drive-through window for home deliveries. Employees in the store load orders into the delivery droid, which moves back and forth between the interior and exterior of the building on a platform. The droid then brings the order outside, where a drone will be waiting to pick it up.
The system also features an order-tracking app and a software that integrates with third-party systems to enable on-demand, scheduled, white-label or marketplace deliveries from businesses.
This year, Zipline will conduct around 10,000 test flights of the P2 system with 100 aircraft, rolling it out to customers shortly after.
“Our vision is a global logistics system that provides a service unlike anything anyone has experienced before … a future where drone deliveries will go from novel to normal, where everyone has access to a better quality of life because they’re able to get what they need, when they need it,” said Okeoma Moronu, head of global aviation regulatory affairs with Zipline. “We’re making that future a reality by building the safest, most reliable system possible.”
Arguably, though, the platform’s most significant development is its flexible delivery model. Unlike a typical drone delivery system, P2 Zips can travel up to 24 miles and land at any dock in the network. That allows them to charge and head out for another delivery wherever demand is strongest, similar to the model Alphabet’s Wing revealed earlier this month.
The ability for drones to travel dock to dock or store to store may allow them to behave more like a fleet of delivery vans, following demand wherever it goes. That could unlock value in an industry where adoption is low, meaning demand is often unpredictable.
And if drones do achieve capabilities similar to ground-based last-mile transportation methods, they could also soften the transportation industry’s impact on the environment.
“Over the last decade, global demand for instant delivery has skyrocketed, but the technology we’re using to deliver is 100 years old,” said Keller Rinaudo Cliffton, co-founder and CEO of Zipline. “We’re still using the same 3,000-pound gas combustion vehicles, driven by humans, to make billions of deliveries that usually weigh less than 5 pounds. It’s slow. It’s expensive and it’s terrible for the planet. Our new service is changing that and will finally make deliveries work for you and around your schedule.”
While P2 flight tests have yet to take off, Zipline already has an array of partnerships lined up to get the system into service. One is its first customer, the government of Rwanda, which is already establishing a nationwide drone delivery network through a December 2022 partnership. Rwanda will use P2 to deliver to homes, hotels and hospitals in and around the nation’s capital of Kigali.
“Zipline and Rwanda is a case in point of transformation[and] of economic prosperity that changes people’s lives for the better,” said Rwanda President Paul Kagame.
Another partner, health-focused restaurant chain Sweetgreen, will facilitate drone deliveries in the U.S. through Zipline’s marketplace. Two others, Michigan Medicine and MultiCare Health System, will use P2 to deliver prescriptions across a network of hospitals, laboratories and doctors’ offices, as well as patients’ homes.
“By deploying Zipline we are able to make deliveries faster than ever before, saving time for both patients and our medical workers, enabling faster, affordable, pharmacy care that leads to better patient outcomes,” said Dr. Marschall Runge, CEO of Michigan Medicine.
With its upgraded delivery system and a new slate of partnerships to test it out, Zipline expects its delivery volume to reach new heights. In fact, Rinaudo said Wednesday the firm will complete 1 million deliveries in 2023.
“We are on track to make twice as many deliveries this year as we made in all previous years combined,” the Zipline CEO affirmed.
And it’s in a strong position to get there. Zipline’s half a million completed deliveries dwarf the likes of Amazon Prime Air, DroneUp and even Wing, which said last week it just topped the 300,000 mark. Plus, in June, the firm secured a landmark FAA certification that gave it the largest commercial on-demand delivery radius of any U.S. drone firm.
Of course, 1 million deliveries in a year is still an ambitious target for any drone company. But Zipline might just be the first to get there.
For more coverage on drone delivery, go to FreightWaves.com.