Andrew Rothgaber of Zipline, Revolutionizing Healthcare through Autonomous Drones

By Ysa Lauta

In urban areas, the on-demand economy has replaced traditional business models faster than anyone could have anticipated. Technology has made many services immediately accessible, but less so in rural regions. In remote areas, residents travel hours on dirt roads, crossing makeshift bridges to do things many take for granted: going to school, buying goods, or visiting hospitals. Physical infrastructure isn’t the only barrier to access; the supply centers of these areas often lack supply to meet inconsistent demand. Zipline uses technology to address worst-case healthcare scenarios by providing vital medical supplies to remote facilities in minutes.

Flying to save lives

Zipline was founded in 2014 to deliver vital medical supplies to hard to reach areas. Andrew Rothgaber, International Business Development at Zipline International, explains, “In many parts of the world, the distance from point A to point B is not a straight line. Zipline’s founders thought about how we could improve health outcomes by improving health access... and the way we could do that was by creating a service that makes the distance between point A to point B in a straight line. The only way you can do that is by air.”

Seeing the connection between poor access and poor outcomes, Zipline developed and built an autonomous delivery drone and established distribution centers in Rwanda and Ghana. Through Zipline’s app, healthcare facilities within the range of their distribution centers could place orders when they need it. In an average of 30 minutes or less, Zipline’s drones fly to the healthcare facilities, delivering the package by parachute. Their drones have already flown over two million kilometers and delivered at least 20,000 lifesaving deliveries.

“The people living in these areas know that the drones they see in the air are making important deliveries. One out of three deliveries we make are life-saving deliveries, so there’s a one in three chance that the drones you see are going to save somebody’s life.” Andrew shared. “The impact in the community is important because when you save a mother’s life, you’re not just saving her life or her child’s life, you’re also having an impact on the lives of everyone around them.”

Testing of second-generation Zipline drones. Photo taken from https://www.cnet.com/pictures/take-a-look-at-ziplines-new-drone-delivery-system/

Expanding to change the future

Zipline is looking to expand operations with a focus on Asia. In 2019, they signed an agreement with the government of India to serve 120 million people across the country. As Zipline’s work cuts across aviation and healthcare — two of the most regulated industries — developing strong partnerships with governments is necessary for success. “Learning the local healthcare system of our target area, communicating to different stakeholders, and understanding where Zipline fits in takes a lot of time.” Andrew notes, “But at the end of the day, we overcome these challenges because we believe in their mission and in the value we can add across these countries.”

What’s next for Zipline? The Zipline team believes autonomous delivery is the future of logistics and Zipline is well positioned, having made more deliveries and flew more miles than any autonomous delivering company in the world. No one knows how quickly regulations can adapt to this kind of technology but Zipline will surely be a part of the future of logistics and healthcare.

Zipline’s mission motivates their team to revolutionize logistics and healthcare. “The sooner we can operate in the Philippines, the sooner we can start saving lives and that’s our motivation.” Andrew surmises. “I believe in our cause because I’ve seen deliveries not only affect a patient’s life, but also everybody in her/his life. I really have a lot of admiration for health institutions around the world because they have such difficult missions. And if Zipline can help them even by just a tiny fraction, then we have already made a difference.”

To learn more about Zipline, you may visit their website here