San Francisco-Based Zipline continues to surge to the forefront of the global drone industry. The 7-year old drone company has just released a new autonomous drone, dubbed Platform 2, which can carry eight pounds of cargo at a range of 10 miles. Zipline already conducts extensive medical supply delivery operations in several African countries, in Japan, and in selected US locales, including North Carolina, Arkansas, Michigan and Utah. The company plans to add the fast-casual food chain Sweetgreen to its drone delivery partners, which marks the company’s first significant foray into the remote aerial food delivery market.
Zipline has enjoyed extraordinary early success relative to other drone companies. One reason was its decision to begin its drone operations outside the United States in countries with few stringent drone flight regulations. It’s been able to move from pilot drone tests to full-scale operations with relative ease. Zipline also made the wise decision to concentrate on the medical supply niche where the humanitarian need and consumer demand – especially in poorer countries in Africa – was the greatest.
Zipline began delivering vaccines and blood plasma supplies in rural Rwanda in 2016 and quickly became responsible for transporting 75% of the country’s medical supplies outside the capital of Kigali. The company’s success led to requests from Ghana, Nigeria and other African countries for a similar service. Last year, the Rwandan government approved Zipline’s expansion into Kigali, giving the company a virtual monopoly over aerial medical supply delivery in that impoverished country.
Another factor in the company’s success has been its use of custom-designed fixed wing drones that could fly over rural drop sites and release packages on a time- released parachute without the need to hover in place and lower them slowly to the ground on a cable, as most remote delivery companies, including Walmart and Amazon, currently do.
However, in recent months, as Zipline has turned to the US consumer market, the company has introduced its own hover and tether system, which promises greater accuracy than its competitors. The drones remain at a high altitude – some 330 feet or more – to reduce the noise interference with local communities but also release their cargo in a special casing – known as a “druid” – that allows for pinpoint drop accuracy. Amazon and Walmart drones still deliver packages to parking lots or housing abutments but Zipline’s drones can place their druid on a homeowner’s doorstep or backyard picnic table, as needed.
Zipline has received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for its “last mile” medical supply deliveries in three US states, but only under highly restricted conditions. The company is hoping for expanded FAA approval to fly fully autonomous Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations across greater distances and near heavily populated areas without the need for remote piloting or preliminary approval and oversight of each drone flight.
Investors are clearly excited about Zipline’s prospects for a huge expansion of its domestic and overseas operations. In an April 10 filing in Delaware, the company revealed a Series F funding of $330 million. The funding values Zipline at about $4.2 billion, a 55% increase from the $2.7 billion valuation recorded in 2021. A Series F-1 extension of up to $20 million that could still be included in this latest funding round, which means the exact total raised by Zipline may increase still further.
In a statement, Zipline confirmed it had raised new funding. “We recently closed our Series F funding round at an increased valuation, which involved several new and existing investors,” the company wrote. “We are well capitalized to continue to grow our operations, including launching our new home delivery service.”
Past investors in Zipline have included Andreessen Horowitz, Slow Ventures, Katalyst Ventures, Intercorps and GV, the venture firm of Google parent Alphabet, which has helped fund the drone company Wing, a Zipline competitor. Including the latest Series F funding, Zipline has raised more than $900 million in investment capital since its founding in 2014.