Around the world in 80 days? Not with South San Francisco, California, U.S.-based Zipline. It set up a personal best on 07JUN21 with a combined flight distance (798 flights in total) of 87,040 km in one day. That equals 2.17 times the circumference of the Earth in just a single day. And the company that sees itself as an “instant logistics” provider, has just bagged another impressive record investment sum of $250 million in a recent funding round.
New investors, Fidelity, Intercorp, Emerging Capital Partners, and Reinvent Capital have joined existing supporters Baillie Gifford, Temasek, and Katalyst Ventures, in putting their money into “instant logistics”, raising a total of $250 million, and bringing Zipline’s value to a staggering $2.75 billion within just 7 years.
Medical drone focus, serving all humans equally
The press release illustrates the social responsibility focus at the core of the company: “Since we launched our first Zip in Rwanda in 2016, we have worked tirelessly to build the first logistics system that serves all humans equally. Five years later, we have created the world’s largest automated on-demand delivery service, pioneering a new category of instant logistics. Over that time, we have seen the transformative impact of our service: from delivering COVID-19 vaccines at scale in Ghana, and becoming a foundational layer in that country’s medical supply chain, to launching 24/7 deliveries in Rwanda. We’re incredibly proud of the impact we’ve had on the countries, partners, communities, and people we serve.” It is the first company in the world to offer a 24/7 autonomous delivery service, and its service plans for Ghana include a signed partnership agreement with the Ministry of Health to increase its presence to four additional distribution centers able to serve 24 million people, 90% of the country’s population. Zipline recently entered into partnerships with Nigeria’s Kaduna and Cross River States where it will also deliver medical supplies, including vaccines, blood, and medicines. To date, it has “surpassed ten million autonomous miles flown, two million vaccine doses distributed and over 150,000 commercial deliveries completed.” Some of those vaccines were part of a project together with Pfizer in designing and testing end-to-end delivery solutions for the safe, efficiently, and fair delivery of COVID-19 vaccines in all Zipline countries. Zipline plans to have delivered 2.4 million COVID-19 vaccine doses by the end of this year.
A new model for instant logistics
The latest funding will go towards developing “a new model for instant logistics” Zipline has, since it was founded in 2014, tirelessly worked on improving its drone technology to best meet its mission requirements, essentially custom-building its solutions from scratch. “With the new funding, we will continue to advance our integrated service, including our autonomy platform, aircraft, fulfillment systems, and operations,” the release states. There is so much more to Zipline that merely developing drone models, as the release illustrates: “When we launched in Rwanda in 2016, we set out to serve 21 hospitals in the first year. It was hard - integrating systems, fine tuning hardware, on-boarding new facilities, pioneering new systems to integrate into civilian airspace, to name a few. This year, when we launch in Kaduna state, Nigeria, we will serve 1,000 new facilities, onboarded with custom built, proprietary software. It’s still hard, but the bar is much, much higher.” The work extends to removing barriers to drone operations, and working closely with all the stakeholders involved from pharmaceutical companies through to hospitals and local authorities. Whilst the company has mainly focused on transporting blood, medicines, vaccines – and with the onset of the pandemic – also PPE and COVID-19 vaccines both in Ghana and in North Carolina (together with Novant Health), Zipline will be using the funding to also explore and expand into new industries and geographies, adding commerce to its predominantly healthcare bent.
Instant logistics is the future
Over the past year, Zipline has extended its reach to Japan, entering into a first-of-its-kind strategic operational partnership with Toyota Group, while over in the U.S: it signed a partnership with Walmart, aimed at bringing on-demand delivery of health and wellness products to the U.S. Speaking in an interview with TechCrunch on 30JUN21, Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo Rinaudo stated: “The fact that so many big companies like Toyota and Walmart are starting to make big bets in this instant logistics space, I think is a pretty clear sign that people realize this is coming. There’s a tidal wave of transformation coming. The exciting thing about it is that it’s going to totally transform the way that healthcare systems work, it’s going to totally transform the way that economic systems work, and it’s going to make it possible for logistics to serve people equally.” Zipline is currently looking to become one of the first drone delivery companies to receive full commercial operating certification in the U.S. from the FAA, where it eyes for example delivering pharmaceutical prescriptions directly to people’s home. The potentials for drone deliveries are enormous, the hurdles to achieve those potentials sometimes, also. Yet, Zipline’s mission is: “Breaking out of the limitations of existing systems to create a model of logistics that reaches everyone, everywhere.”
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