- Zipline is partnering with a not-for-profit healthcare provider to launch Washington state's first commercial drone deliveries, according to an announcement last week.
- Zipline will deliver time-sensitive medical supplies like lab samples, medications and test kits to MultiCare Health System’s hospitals, labs and doctors' offices. Deliveries using the drone delivery manufacturer’s autonomous, electric aircraft are slated to start in 2024 in the Tacoma area, pending regulatory approvals.
- The partnership aims "to create a faster, on-demand delivery model for MultiCare’s providers and improve the patient experience," according to the release.
While the drone takeover of e-commerce deliveries has yet to crystallize, the technology has carved out a niche for healthcare uses such as COVID-19 vaccine transportation. On-demand delivery of lightweight items on a short distance route plays to drones' strengths and the often urgent needs of health providers and their patients.
Zipline is a prominent face in healthcare-focused drone delivery, or what it calls "instant logistics in healthcare." Zipline has made more than 335,000 deliveries and flown more than 24 million miles with its aircraft, according to the release. It services more than 2,000 healthcare facilities in Rwanda and Ghana alone.
Zipline's delivery growth was set to accelerate even before the MultiCare agreement was announced. The company announced in June it launched on-demand drone delivery capabilities from the company's Kannapolis, North Carolina, distribution center for three healthcare organizations:
- Cardinal Health is using Zipline to deliver pharmaceutical products and medical supplies to a local pharmacy to reduce inventory stock-out risks and barriers to patient access.
- Magellan Rx Management is delivering prescription medications directly to patients' homes through Zipline.
- Novant Health is delivering specialty medications to its patients through Zipline, expanding on their previous partnership to deliver protective gear and medical supplies during the pandemic.
Commercial deliveries for these companies began on June 22, marking Zipline's first deliveries since the Federal Aviation Administration awarded it Part 135 certification June 17.
Part 135 certification opened the door for Zipline to expand its U.S. service, as the certification is necessary for drone deliveries to occur beyond the operator's visual line of sight. Zipline can fly routes up to 26 miles roundtrip under the certification.
“Initial operations under this certification will be in North Carolina,” Zipline spokesperson Lauren Wry said in an email. “From here, the company will work closely with the FAA to expand its operations under Part 135 into more communities, including Tacoma.”
Zipline has also dipped its feet into the waters of the retail sector. In November, it launched with Walmart an autonomous aircraft delivery service in Northwest Arkansas. The service, which began under an FAA Part 107 certificate, provides select health and wellness items and consumables from a Walmart Neighborhood Market in Pea Ridge, Arkansas.