Zipline’s drones to deliver medicine in Salt Lake City area

Zipline, a drone delivery and logistics company that got its start delivering medical supplies in Africa, has started dropping prescriptions and over-the-counter medications to homes in the Salt Lake City, Utah area.

In a partnership with Intermountain Healthcare, a healthcare company that services the Intermountain Region of the United States, Zipline will deploy an initial fleet of five electric, autonomous drones out of its Salt Lake Valley distribution center. The startup is promising on-demand deliveries directly to patients’ homes in “as little as 15 minutes,” and plans to gradually expand to cater to more than 1 million customers over the next five years, Zipline said in a statement Tuesday.

While Zipline has been deploying drones in Africa, starting in Rwanda, since 2016, the company gained U.S. market entry in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Zipline partnered with Novant Health to distribute personal protective gear and medical equipment in North Carolina — a distribution network that has since expanded to include Cardinal Health and Magellan Rx Management. Later that same year, Zipline began a partnership with Walmart in Arkansas, initially to deploy health and wellness supplies, and has since expanded to more general products in the future.

During the pandemic, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted Zipline an emergency waiver to operate without the proper certification. In June, Zipline finally received its FAA Part 135 air carrier certification, which authorized the company to complete long-range on-demand commercial drone deliveries in the United States.

Now, certain customers in Utah will look up into the sky to see a 45-pound, fixed-wing aircraft that looks like a tiny airplane quietly humming above a patient’s house as it parachutes a box down into their yard. Zipline says its autonomous aircraft are constantly taking in surrounding information like wind speed and direction so they can accurately drop packages within a target area “about the size of a couple parking spaces.”

The drones, which fly up to 400 feet above ground level, are monitored by trained remote pilots who can intervene if necessary.

Zipline’s latest launch will initially service communities within a few miles of its distribution center located in South Jordan. The startup’s drones can fly up to a 50-mile radius in most weather conditions, Zipline said. Over the next five years, Zipline plans to add new distribution centers to its network so it can deliver to around 90% of households and community drop-off locations in the Salt Lake Valley area. After that, Zipline has its eyes on broader expansion in Utah.

Interested customers within the Intermountain Healthcare network can start signing up to use the service. While the service is ideal for people who are less mobile, are sick or have work obligations that make it difficult to make it to the pharmacy for their meds, Zipline says the service is for everyone. Zipline will evaluate whether it can deliver to homes based on factors like yard size, location and surrounding airspace, a company spokesperson told TechCrunch.

“This partnership allows us to reach patients faster than we ever thought possible, at a time that’s convenient for them,” said Gordon Slade, associate vice president of supply chain logistics at Intermountain Healthcare, in a statement. “Combined with our telehealth services like Connect Care, it’s possible to virtually see a doctor and get medication you need delivered from Zipline, without having to travel to a clinic or the hospital.”

Correction: A previous version of this article said the Zipline/Intermountain service would target specific people, like those who are less mobile. Zipline has since confirmed that the service is for everyone.