Silicon Valley robotics firm Zipline made headlines when it launched what it claimed was the world's first national drone delivery service, for transporting blood to medical clinics in Rwanda. Now, the company has announced an overhaul of that system, which involves upgrading to the "world's fastest delivery drone."
In the current version of the service, which was established in 2016, doctors in remote villages start by placing an order for urgently-needed blood (or blood products such as plasma) via text message. That order is received by a central distribution center, where the requested item is placed aboard one of 15 autonomous fixed-wing drones known as "Zips." That Zip then flies to the doctor's location and releases its payload, which is parachuted to the ground. The delivery made, the drone subsequently returns to its base.
In the new version of the service, an improved logistics system will reportedly decrease the amount of time that transpires between the order being received and the drone taking off – it will go from the current 10 minutes down to just one minute. According to Zipline, this will in turn increase the number of daily delivery flights that can be made from each distribution center, going from 50 up to 500.
And yes, the Zips will now be faster. The new aircraft have a top speed of 128 km/h (80 mph) and a cruising speed of 101 km/h (63 mph), which is 21 km/h faster than the previous Zips. They additionally now have a round-trip range of 160 km (99 miles) – up from 150 km – and can carry up to 1.75 kg (3.8 lb) of cargo, which is up from 1.5.
Along with its introduction in Africa, the new service is also intended for use in other regions, including the United States. Zipline is currently working with state governments and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and hopes to have its drones making deliveries within the US by the end of the year.
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