Zipline, the world’s first national-scale drone delivery service, will begin initial testing and diagnostic flights from its first distribution centre in Omenako in the Eastern Region in the first week of March.
The test will be in two stages and start with a technical test – at which stage no delivery of medicinal supplies will be made to any hospital.
A statement issued by Zipline said the second stage will involve flying water packages to health facilities to test landing sites.
After successful tests, the revolutionary new service will be launched to use drones in making on-demand, emergency deliveries of life-saving medications to over 2,000 health facilities across the country.
148 life-saving medical products
The service will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Ghana Health Service (GHS) has selected 148 life-saving medical products to be stocked at Zipline’s four distribution centres nationwide.
Delivery done upon request
Zipline will guarantee delivery of those products upon request to any of the thousands of health facilities served.
20 drones per each distribution centre
Each of the four distribution centres will be staffed by a team of 35 Ghanaian engineers and logistics personnel, equipped with at least 20 drones.
Together, all four distribution centres will be capable of making at least 600 on-demand delivery flights a day.
The drones can carry 1.75 kilos of cargo cruising at 110 kilometres an hour, and have an all-weather round-trip range of 160 kilometres.
In advance of launching its initial testing and diagnostic flights in March, educating the public on the safety and security features of the company’s drone delivery service will begin in earnest.
“By using drones for emergency medical delivery, Ghana will be able to save money and save lives,” said Dr. Anthony Nsiah-Asare, Director General of the Ghana Health Services.
“No one in Ghana should die because they can’t access the medicine they need. Drone delivery will help us prevent that.
“We look forward to working hand-in-hand with the Ministry of Health as we begin emergency medical drone delivery in Ghana,” said Zipline Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Keller Rinaudo.
“An important part of that process is working with the community and key stakeholders to better understand how the system works, and all of the work that’s gone into making it the safest and most reliable service of its kind in the world,” he added.
Zipline’s safety system
Zipline’s drone delivery service is dedicated to expanding healthcare access and saving lives around the globe. Health workers place orders by text message and receive their deliveries within 30 minutes on average.
Zipline’s drones both take off and land from its distribution centres, requiring no additional infrastructure at the clinics it serves. Deliveries are made from the sky, with the drone descending to a safe height above the ground and air-dropping medicine by parachute to a designated spot at the health centres it serves.
Because the company’s drones criss-cross commercial airspace daily over both remote and populated areas on their way to deliver critical and life-saving medicine to people in need, the safety and reliability of Zipline’s service is a top priority.
Recently, the United States Federal Aviation Administration announced that it may require the U.S. commercial drone industry in future regulations to adopt the kinds of safety features Zipline has already put in place
The company has taken many steps to ensure that it is operating the safest delivery system of its kind in the world: including rigorous testing of flight software and aircraft hardware; flight operations safety procedures; redundant inflight safety features; and modular frangible design.
Rigorous testing of flight software and aircraft hardware
The company works to improve the quality of its code and service every day, to make sure it is operating the safest and most effective drone delivery operation in the world.
All software updates are first put through automated software and hardware in the loop-testing, allowing advanced algorithms to assess how the new code and aircraft will perform in the real world.
After passing through simulation testing, all new codes are installed onto drones at a state-of-the-art flight-testing facility in Northern California, Codenamed Nest X, and pushed to the limits to validate performance.
That process is repeated until the system and aircraft are ready to be deployed into global flight operations.
Flight operation and safety
Flight operators physically inspect each aircraft and use cutting-edge technology like computer vision during pre-flight checks to make sure each drone is fit for flight.
Because Zipline’s drones fly autonomously along predetermined routes, all of the flight paths are registered in advance with civil aviation authorities.
Zipline is in direct communication with those aviation authorities, so that they know at all times when drones are launched and where they are flying to.
Zipline’s sophisticated air traffic control system uses advanced algorithms to make sure all drones in the air know where they are, and where they need to go.
Redundant in-flight safety features
Zipline drones are designed to automatically detect issues inflight and safely return to base for repair.
Each drone is equipped with redundant flight computers, motors, communications systems, flight control surfaces, as well as redundant navigation and power systems.
In the event of emergencies like severe weather, emergency requests from air traffic control or unplanned flight operation issues, each drone is equipped with a parachute that allows it to make an immediate landing by slowly descending to the ground.
The drones use parachute landings at least once a week during the testing and diagnostic phase of beginning new distribution centres and delivery routes, or when the company decides to make deliveries in the face of extreme weather to aid in emergency medical situations.
Modular frangible design
Zipline’s drones and its parts are designed to break on contact, minimising potential damage to things on the ground.
The drone’s core navigation, power, communications, and computing functions are inserted into the drone as a single unit.
That unit is housed within a carbon-fibre chassis that is protected by an outer styrofoam shell – similar to the construction of helmets.
The styrofoam serves to protect anything on the outside of the drone as well as everything on the inside.
Damaged styrofoam is quickly replaced, allowing the drone to return to service.
The same is true for other flight modules, which include the motors, wings, tail-fins and power, navigation and communications unit. If anyone of those units experience issues, it can be easily replaced with a new one so that the aircraft can return to service and saving lives as quickly as possible.