Author(s): Raghu Gopal
This week, Zipline, a drone delivery start-up, closed a $25 million funding round led by Visionnaire Ventures, with participation from Sequoia Capital and Andreessen Horowitz. Zipline says it will use the funds to expand its drone delivery service across Africa and other markets. This investment reflects growing confidence in drone-focussed start-ups.
Zipline, founded in 2011 in San Francisco, builds autonomous drones designed to deliver vaccines, medicine and blood on request from health workers operating in hard-to-reach areas. Zipline has raised a total of $40 million since its founding and the company has some notable investors on board including Andreessen Horowitz, Google Ventures, Sequoia Capital, Visionnaire Ventures, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and Yahoo founder Jerry Yang.
In October 2016, Rwanda launched what might be the world's first commercial national drone service with Zipline to deliver blood to 21 transfusion facilities around the country using routes that are preprogrammed into the drone.
Zipline has also entered into an international partnership with UPS, and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance to cover medicines and vaccines. The company has also revealed plans to initiate drone deliveries in the US within the next six months, in partnership with the White House and the Federal Aviation Administration.
UPS, FedEx and Amazon are also developing their own commercial drone delivery services. It's an indication of confidence in the general technology of autonomous flying machines. Drones are now considered a legitimate solution for complicated logistics problems. However, regulators in each country view drones differently: many countries are wary of letting commercial drones fly without oversight. The potential uses for drones are remarkable but trust in the devices will still take years to develop.