On May 17th 2019, medical drone delivery pioneer Zipline announced $190m worth of new financing and ambitious plans to launch services across Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Americas. The California company wants to serve 700 million people over the next five years.
Those are profound ambitions backed up by huge numbers. It will be exciting to see how Zipline’s delivery service is received in new continents and how the company will adapt as it seeks to cater to the enormous demand for medical deliveries present around the world.
What the news also illustrates is a clear willingness to invest in an emerging use for drones that has enormous potential to do good. We have seen several retail delivery drone services take off in recent years, but none have made an impact like Zipline.
There are several reasons for that, and medical deliveries are among the most important applications for the future of the drone industry. Here’s why...
Flying the flag for what’s possible
If you want to convince people that a new technology is worth adopting, your best bet is to prove that it can make a positive difference to their lives. The more profound the better, which explains why medical drone delivery projects have been given leeway to conduct the kind of flights regulators have otherwise kept limited.
Flights beyond line of sight while carrying and dropping packages by parachute are a rare thing in the drone industry at the moment. But companies like Zipline are being granted permission to operate because they are saving lives.
The risks and complications surrounding operations that are otherwise not legislated for are acceptable given the outcome. The end result is something both the public and regulators can embrace.
In the process, medical drone deliveries are proving the potential of a technology that will eventually transform the way we move all things - not just medicines - from A to B.
Proving that technology can help the majority
In a statement outlining the new wave of funding and Zipline’s expansion plans, CEO Keller Rinaudo had some interesting things to say about how medical deliveries are a way of democratizing the benefits of drone technology.
“There is a growing feeling around the world that technology is not benefitting the vast majority of people,” he said.
“The old conventional wisdom has been that building a successful technology company requires exploiting people’s personal information or hijacking their attention. Zipline wants to establish a new model for success in Silicon Valley by showing the world that the right technology company with the right mission and the best team can help improve the lives of every person on the planet.”
Giving drones a good reputation
Medical drone deliveries are also important for the perception of the industry in general.
More often than not, drones are making headlines for all the wrong reasons, from air traffic interruption to firefighting effort disruption and privacy concerns.
But, as those who watch the industry more closely will know, there are plenty of positive applications making a difference in all kinds of industries. Unfortunately, they aren’t always exciting enough to warrant mainstream media coverage or grab the attention in the same way that a handful of negative stories do.
Medical drone deliveries are an eye-catching, life-saving use case that can carry the flag for drone technology and improve public perception in the long run. This is vital if we are to continue making sensible regulatory progress and build operating frameworks that allow for further innovation.
It’s not just Zipline of course. Other companies and researchers are introducing drones to deliver medical supplies, from Matternet to the University of Maryland.
All are providing the drone industry with an intangible positive, on top of developing potentially life-saving applications.
You can read more about the potential of drone delivery here.