In 2018, the global market for drone logistics and transport amounted to just under 25 million US$. Experts expect an increase of around 60 percent to more than 1.625 million US$ by 2027. A total of 26 nations worldwide are currently testing the use of drones as a delivery alternative to cars and co. Whilst there is a clear focus on medical care in the African sub-Saharan region, industrialised countries are prioritising its use for the commercial sector.
In 2016, the Californian start-up company Zipline International first employed their drones in Rwanda. Since then, the company has put four distribution centres into operation in the African country, with four further centres put into operation in Ghana in 2019. This enabled Zipline International to deliver tens of thousands of urgently required supply goods to health centres in remote areas within the shortest possible time. A total of12 million patients are expected to benefit from the world’s largest drone delivery service in Ghana alone. Every day, up to 600 drone flights leave the centres equipped with vaccines, blood bags and life-saving medicines. Whilst on the one hand, 55 ambulances are available for the entire population of 29 million people, on the other, Zipline International has 120 operational drones. The Ghanaian government has agreed to support the project financially for a period of four years. Among others, the UPS Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the pharmaceutical companies Novartis and Pfizer are partners of the project.
Precise drops: A Zipline drone in operation. Photo: Zipline International
Packaged and dropped in 30 minutes
With their national on-demand system, the African countries are leading in the innovative unmanned flying objects. Here, medical staff place an order with the distribution centres, either via SMS, WhatsApp or a special Zipline website. They immediately receive a confirmation – day or night, regardless of weather conditions. On average, it takes around 30 minutes from the time of order until the robustly packaged medicine is dropped. The flight routes are programmed using information from a 3D satellite map and manual calculations. Technicians on the ground monitor the flights; the respective data is also sent to the country’s central air traffic control system for coordination. As soon as the goods reach a safe height, they are released by parachute. The drones themselves do not land. Larger orders are delivered by several drones at once.
Life-saving emergency aid: Zipline drones can deliver medicine within 30 minutes, even to remote areas. Photo: Zipline International
Zipline in numbers
Every week, Zipline drones fly more than 40,000 kilometres in total – the equivalent of flying around the world once.
Every day, the drones deliver up to one ton of medication and blood products.
has a range of around 80 km
reaches speeds of up to 100 km/h
weighs about 10 kg
can carry payloads of up to 1.8 kg
is equipped with two motors as well as power, communication and navigation systems