Zipline unveils cute little droid to make drone delivery more accurate
Zipline unveiled its next generation electric autonomous drone platform Wednesday that includes an updated drone as well as a more accurate method of delivering parcels to a customer's home.
Zipline historically has parachuted packages from the sky and onto a target area roughly the size of a couple of parking spaces. Now, Zipline is introducing its droid, a vessel about the size of a small duffle bag, that autonomously maneuvers down a tether from the drone, steers to the target location, and gently empties its contents before being zipped back up into the drone.
“Just like modern cars use sensors and cameras to understand the world around it, our droid will have a robust onboard sensor suite, including GPS and visual sensors, which it will use to maneuver and help ensure a delivery site is free from kids, dogs or other obstacles," Jo Mardall, head of engineering at Zipline, told TechCrunch, noting that a similar sensor suite helps guide the P2 Zip, the next-generation drone.
The droid's three fans help it combat changes in wind or other environmental factors for more accurate delivery -- Zipline says it has been able to narrow down the drop zone to within two feet.
The P2 can carry a six to eight pound payload and has a 10-mile service radius when delivering a package and coming straight back to a single dock. Like Zipline's previous drone version, the P2 is a fixed-wing aircraft. However, it also comes with four propellers that allow the vehicle to hover in mid-air and engage in vertical takeoff and landing. This not only helps with delivery, but also fulfillment.
The new delivery platform includes docking and charging hardware that can be attached to the outside of any building or set up as a freestanding structure. When the drones return from a delivery, they'll dock themselves, release their empty droid, take on a new one and then fly back off to do another delivery. Zipline also designed an accompanying software that can be integrated with third-party inventory management and ordering systems, as well as an app that lets customers and companies track orders "to the second."
"We have built the closest thing to teleportation ever created - a smooth, ultrafast, convenient, and truly magical autonomous logistics system that serves all people equally, wherever they are," said Keller Rinaudo Cliffton, co-founder and CEO of Zipline, in a statement.
A few businesses have already committed to the updated service, such as fast casual salad bowl chain Sweetgreen, although Zipline didn't provide specifics as to when or where those deliveries will begin. Michigan Medicine is another new customer that hopes to double the number of prescriptions it fills each year through its in-house pharmacy.
Intermountain Health in the Salt Lake City metro area is expanding on its partnership, which began last October to include the new service. Existing customer MultiCare Health System in Washington will also use the new platform to speed up diagnostics and deliver prescriptions and medical devices throughout its hospitals, doctors' offices and labs.
Finally, the government of Rwanda, Zipline's first customer, will expand its partnership with Zipline to more accurately deliver to homes, hotels and health facilities in Kigali to start, and then beyond.
Zipline said it will continue to offer its original delivery service with parachutes alongside the new service, as they complement each other and can solve for different use cases.
"We’re excited about this new platform because we think it’s the best delivery experience. Not just the best drone delivery experience, but the best delivery experience," said Keenan Wyrobek, co-founder and chief technology officer of Zipline, in a statement.
Zipline is aiming for its first customer deployment of the new system by early next year. The company plans to conduct over 10,000 flight tests this year using about 100 aircraft.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Zipline's new delivery platform had an accuracy of up to 2 meters. Zipline misspoke during its interview and the correct target range is 2 feet.