Why is this interesting? - The Drone Delivery Edition

On remote medicine, technology, and Ghana

Hi there. We’re taking a few days off, leading up into the New Year. To satiate your desire for WITI, we have a few classics lined up for the next few days. The best point is it will be new for many readers, thanks to our amazing growth this year. One of the coolest things about this newsletter and community is the people we meet and Noah and I appreciate your support very much. Onto the edition. -Colin (CJN)

Colin here. Drone delivery has been on a steep march up the hype curve over the past few years. It started back when Amazon did the 60 minutes reveal about flying Prime packages and then pop culture extrapolated how we could get our consumer needs (flying pizza!) in this fashion. However, due to regulations and other hitches, this vision in pop culture has so far turned out far from reality. At the same time, the application of drones in lifesaving and medical contexts has seen some exciting use cases. In one example, lifeguards at some beaches can now dispatch a drone that drops a floatation device to a stranded swimmer, allowing them time to stay afloat before a proper rescue can happen in choppy seas. 

Zipline is another incredibly inspiring example. According to Fast Company’s writeup in their most innovative list:

It took drone delivery pioneer Zipline, which specializes in sending medical supplies autonomously over long distances, nearly three years to create its first countrywide network. Launched in Rwanda in 2016, the San Francisco–based company now transports roughly 75% of the country’s blood supply outside its capital city, Kigali. In May 2019, Zipline moved into Ghana—and in less than a year reached 2,000 hospitals, covering 12 million people. “We knew how to work with [the country’s] civil aviation regulator, integrate with the public healthcare supply chain, set up distribution centers, and run maintenance [on the drones],” says cofounder and CEO Keller Rinaudo. Zipline also develops its own hardware, avionics, and flight-control algorithms, which allows it to iterate on its technology. (It debuted a new drone model at the end of 2019.) The company is now applying its knowledge around the globe: It’s launching in India later this year, and has recently been tapped by Novant Health to bring medical supplies to areas in North Carolina.

Why is this interesting? 

The streamlining of logistics in terms of critical care situations is fascinating. Fast Company continues

Each of Zipline’s three distribution centers in Ghana employs roughly 24 people, operates a fleet of 30 drones, and carries some 150 different medical supplies, including blood products and vaccines. (A fourth center is under construction.) After a hospital places an order via SMS or WhatsApp, fulfillment center workers pack supplies (each drone can carry up to 1.8 kilograms, or two orders, of blood) and hand them over to flight operators who prepare the vehicle, adding the supply box, wings, and rechargeable battery to the basic carbon-fiber frame.

All flight routes have been pre-approved by Ghana’s civil air authority, and the average time from order to delivery in Ghana is 30 to 40 minutes. 

In the US, the company has recently received FAA approvals allowing them to fly in certain parts of the country. And while the use case in developing economies is clear, there is also real value in rural America. The founder and CEO, Keller Rinaudo, told CNBC, “People think what we do is solving a developing economies problem. But critical-access hospitals are closing at an alarming rate in the U.S., too, especially if you live in the rural U.S. Life expectancy there has declined over the past several years…”

The exciting thing here is drones used in this context can help what were previously insurmountable challenges with infrastructure: think difficult roads, traffic snarls, and hyper remote areas. And at this stage, it is far beyond a speculative beta. The scale of the Ghana project will see 30 drones fly out of four distribution centers to 2,000 health facilities. 

The Zipline CEO recently told Techcrunch that in Ghana alone, they will be doing “600 flights a day…and serve 12 million people. This is going to be the largest drone delivery network on the planet.” (CJN)

Essential Mix of the Day: 

Friend of WITI Ryan Elliott just had a substantial milestone: The Detroit-raised Berghain resident dialed in a mix for the ongoing BBC Radio 1 Essential Series. According to the tracklist, there are tunes from Marcel Dettmann, Schatrax, Terry Francis, and much more. It’s lovingly crafted, hops many genres nicely, and is worth your time. (CJN)

Quick links:

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

Why is this interesting? is a daily email from Noah Brier & Colin Nagy (and friends!) about interesting things. If you’ve enjoyed this edition, please consider forwarding it to a friend. If you’re reading it for the first time, consider subscribing (it’s free!).