Keller Rinaudo, chief executive officer and founder of Zipline, which uses drones to deliver medicine, blood, and other basic medical supplies, issued a bit of a challenge to the 3,000 supply chain managers attending the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals EDGE 2018 Conference. During his keynote address on Tuesday, Rinaudo emphasized that "There is a moral imperative to make supply chains work for everyone, not just the 10 percent of people who live in the right countries."
Zipline is doing its part to answer that call. The company uses 40-pound autonomous aircraft to deliver blood to hospitals across Rwanda, bypassing the country's poor road system. The aircraft are launched from a catapult-like structure on top of Zipline's distribution center. They then fly at 30 feet across a varied landscape and through all types of weather before dropping paper parachutes carrying boxed blood to hospitals across rural Rwanda. The aircraft then return to the DC, where they are caught by a combination of guide wires attached to poles and an inflatable landing pad. "It's like a combination of an aircraft carrier and a bouncy castle," Rinaudo said.
It now takes five minutes from when the hospital orders the blood to when it is received. Zipline has succeeded in reducing blood waste to zero, while increasing access to the product by 170 percent, said Rinaudo.
"For the first seven days, people reacted to the deliveries like it was total science fiction," remembered Rinaudo. "It was as if Jesus Christ himself was delivering blood from the sky. But then it quickly became boring and old hat. One doctor called us because the delivery was a minute late. We are very proud of how boring we can be!"
The company is now working on pilot efforts in Ghana and rural North Carolina.