The government of Maharashtra has partnered with California-based medical product delivery company Zipline to launch a logistics network of autonomous drones for delivery services across the state. The drones will be used to make on-demand deliveries of blood products, vaccines and life-saving medications.
The drone delivery network is expected to become operational in early 2020. Through this initiative, the Maharashtra government aims to put almost all of its 120 Mn citizens within minutes of a lifesaving delivery via drones.
Silicon Valley-based Zipline will establish a total of 10 distribution centres across Maharashtra. In the first phase, two distribution centres near Pune and Nandurbar will be set up to start operations by early 2020. The centres will stock key blood products, vaccines and life-saving medications.
The operation at these two centres will be financed by a grant from Serum Institute of India. However, the future distribution centers will be financed by the government, private and philanthropic partners.
How Will Medical Drone Delivery Work?
Health workers will place orders by text message or call, post which the Zipline drones will be able to execute the delivery from a safe height above the ground and release a box of medicine with an attached parachute to a designated spot. Zipline claims to make a delivery from one distribution centre to another in under 30 minutes.
Each of the two Zipline distribution centers in Maharashtra are said to cover a delivery area of more than 20K sq km with a collective capacity to serve up to 20 Mn people. The drones will both take off and land at Zipline’s distribution centers, thus eliminating the need for any additional infrastructure or manpower at the clinics they serve, save for last-mile delivery.
Zipline drones are said to be capable of carrying 1.8 Kgs of cargo at a speed of 110 Km/hr, and have a round trip range of 160 Kms, even in high speed winds and rain.
Commenting on this initiative, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said, “This new emergency drone delivery service is a great solution to deliver vaccines, blood and other lifesaving products instantly when time is of essence. It will help ensure that millions of people in Maharashtra will always get the care they need.”
Zipline’s Entry In The Indian Market
According to Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo, “Millions of people across the world die each year because they can’t get the medicine they need when they need it. Zipline medical drone delivery system is designed to solve this problem.”
Some of the investors in the US drone company include Baillie Gifford, Goldman Sachs, Sequoia Capital, Katalyst Ventures, Temasek, Toyota Tsusho Corporation, Stanford University and others.
Zipline’s medical drone delivery service is already operational in Rwanda and Ghana. Starting in 2016, Zipline delivers blood to 21 hospitals in Rwanda and has expanded its service nationwide putting most of the country’s 12 Mn citizens within minutes of a lifesaving delivery through 450 facilities
In April 2019, Zipline also partnered with the government of Ghana to launch four distribution centers to serve 2K health facilities and a population of 12 Mn.
Further, it plans to expand its drone delivery services to developed and developing countries across Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Americas, including the United States.
Zipline is also working with the US state of North Carolina to launch a medical drone delivery pilot as a part of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) UAS Integration Pilot Program (UASIPP) in 2019.
Another Indian state, Telangana has partnered with World Economic Forum and Health Net Global to launch a drone-delivery project called ‘Medicine from the Sky’. The project will include a comprehensive study of drone-based deliveries for blood, vaccines, medical samples and organs.