Andrew Rothgaber

Andrew Rothgaber

International Business Development at Zipline International

Q. What are your perspectives on the drone industry in Asia in the next few years?

We think that Zipline’s instant drone delivery service could help revolutionize healthcare access in Asia and around the world.

Q What do you think are the next milestones which should be completed to strengthen the UAS market?

The development of robust commercial drone regulations in countries around the world.

Q. What made you decide to zero in on healthcare logistics for Zipline first drone deliveries?

Access to vital health products around the world is hampered by what is known as the last mile problem. Until now, the only way to ensure all patients have universal access to the medicines they need to stay healthy and alive was for health facilities to keep large inventories of these products on hand all the time. 

This is an incredibly costly approach that results in high levels of medical waste, high storage costs, and high emergency inter-facility transportation costs when either patients or medical products have to be moved from one place to another

This is especially true for products like blood, vaccines, cancer therapies, insulins, and other injectables. All too often, people requiring lifesaving care do not get the medicine they need when they need it.  Zipline’s medical drone delivery system is designed to eliminate this problem. 

Our just-in-time, instant drone delivery service cuts delivery times down from hours or days to just minutes. And it enables hospitals to increase patient access to medicines while decreasing or eliminating medical waste all together. Zipline helps to save money and save lives.

Q. Your drones sometimes might have to fly over populated areas to reach patients in remote locations. Some people have questioned the safety of drones flying over people. Is that a concern for you as well?

Our drones fly below the commercial air ceiling so that they are out of the way of regular air traffic. All our flight paths to the facilities we serve are mapped in advance.We file formal flight plans for review and approval by civil aviation authorities. We build safety into everything we do—from pre-flight checks, to airspace management and everything in between. 

Zipline has built redundant safety features into its flight, power, communication, navigation, and landing systems to name a few. And we’ve built our aircraft using frangible design so that it helps keep things on the inside and the outside of the drone safe. For drone delivery to be successful, we’ve got to win the public trust. That will take being both thoughtful about the work that goes into making things safe and being transparent. 

It will also take a collaborative relationship between government and industry. We’re eager to help move both those conversations forward, so that we can expand our service across the world to help save millions of lives.

Q. Could you describe just how the vehicles fly and make their deliveries?

To increase access and reduce medical waste, key stock of blood products, vaccines, and life-saving medications will be stored at Zipline’s distribution centers for just-in-time delivery.

Health workers will place orders by text message or call and promptly receive their deliveries in 30 minutes on average. The drones both take off from and land at Zipline’s distribution centers, requiring no additional infrastructure or manpower at the clinics they serve.

The drones fly autonomously and can carry 1.8 kilos of cargo, cruising at 110 kilometers an hour, and have a round trip range of 160 kilometers—even in high-speed winds and rain. Each distribution center covers a delivery area of more than 20,000 km2/almost 8,000m2 And is capable of serving up to 10 million people.

Deliveries are made from the sky, with the drone descending to a safe height above the ground and releasing a box of medicine by parachute to a designated spot at the health centers it serves.

Q. What were some of the challenges that you uncovered that you were not expecting?

Many people look at what we’re doing and admire that we’ve built autonomous aircraft from scratch that can deliver medical products to locations 75km away.

The truth is, the vehicles themselves are only about 10% of the complexity of the system.

Some of the biggest challenges of setting up a national drone delivery service have involved integrating with a public health supply chain and building all the infrastructure and equipment necessary to do 150 flights per day, reliably and routinely.

This is one of the most deceptive things about drone delivery. It’s actually very easy to buy a quadcopter off the shelf and then make a delivery of a candy bar over 2-4 km in perfect weather.

It’s really hard to build a system that can operate at a national scale, fly in heavy wind and rain, and integrate with a much larger supply chain.


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