This morning, a drone delivery company Zipline has announced a new drone delivery system It offers a precise, nearly silent delivery service that aims to expand the company’s home delivery capabilities. This requires a much different approach than what Zipline has been doing for the past eight years. In order to make home deliveries quiet and accurate, Zipline has developed an innovative new combination of hybrid drones, “robots” and all the supporting hardware needed to make deliveries right to your front porch.
We visited a Zipline distribution center in Rwanda a few years ago To see how effective their system was at delivering blood across the country’s rugged terrain. To watch the delivery, we drove an hour up winding dirt roads to a rural hospital. Shortly after we arrived, a drone made the flight and delivered a packet of blood in about 14 minutes. It was a convincing example of the value of drone delivery in situations where you have critical, time-sensitive goods in areas with low infrastructure, but the challenges of urban home delivery are something else entirely.
The way Zipline’s current generation of fixed-wing delivery aircraft works is by dropping boxes attached to small parachutes in flight several tens of meters over an open delivery area. You need an unobstructed space for this to work reliably (eg, a few empty parking spaces or equivalent), and it’s not a particularly nice process, which means there are some limits on what you can offer and how it’s filled. For hospitals and health centers, this is usually not a problem. For your home, it may not be a good choice at all.
Zipline’s new drones are a lot different. in file Online event Featuring the Zipline team along with Rwandan President Paul Kagame and company board member Bono, Zipline introduced the P2, a new delivery system that combines a fixed-wing drone with a small tethered robot that can pull out of the drone’s belly to make precise deliveries.
Inside the P2 Zip, the robot and whatever it carries can travel at 112 kilometers per hour through all kinds of weather to a radius of about 16 kilometers with an impressive payload of 2.5 to 3.5 kilos. Once the P2 reaches the delivery destination, Zip hovers a few hundred feet away while a built-in winch lowers the robot and package to the ground. Zip remains at a safe and quiet height while the robot uses integrated thrusters to position itself precisely over the delivery area, which could easily be just half a meter above the picnic table. Visual sensors on the robot make sure the delivery area is clear. Once it touches the robot, it drops its cargo from its belly. Then it is pulled back into the zip, and the team heads home.
On the other end of things is an integrated loading system whereby P2 Zips can be charged outdoors (using an interesting overhead charging system) while the robots descend a chute to be loaded indoors one by one.
Although the event did not show a complete delivery cycle, we were told that all hardware is working and very close to production design, and all delivery steps have been successfully completed using real aircraft. There’s still plenty of testing to be done, of course, and Zipline expects 10,000 flights to be completed over the summer, and its first deployment will follow. Initial clients include two regional health systems in the United States, Sweet Green Restaurants, and the government of Rwanda, with President Kagame himself as the first client. To be clear, the P2 does not replace Zipline’s original drone delivery infrastructure – with a range of 100km, the original Zips (now called the P1) are still very busy delivering critical cargo in Rwanda and elsewhere around the world.
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