Zipline, a logistics startup firm, has on Wednesday 15 March, unveiled its next-generation aircraft, which it will use for rapid aerial deliveries an everyday convenience for customers throughout the U.S., even in densely populated urban areas.
The new drone, called the Platform 2 or P2 Zip, is capable of carrying up to eight pounds worth of cargo within a ten-mile radius and can land a package on a space as small as a table or doorstep.
“The reason that number is important,” says Zipline CEO and co-founder Keller Rinaudo Cliffton, “is that when you look at e-commerce in the US, a vast majority of packages weigh five pounds or less.”
The P2 Zip can travel 10 miles in 10 minutes, and the company can make a delivery approximately seven times faster than any typical service you may order from today, the CEO said. Rapid deliveries by drone may put an end to “porch pirates,” Rinaudo Cliffton said, referring to the theft of packages left on a doorstep while the customer is away from home.
While Zipline’s original drone, the P1 Zip, features a fixed-wing or glider-like design, the P2 employs both lift and cruise propellers and a fixed-wing. These help it manoeuver precisely and quietly, even in rainy or windy weather.
To deliver cargo to a customer’s door, the P2 Zip hovers around 300 feet above ground level and dispatches a kind of mini-aircraft and container called the “droid.” The droid descends on a long thin tether, and manoeuvers quietly into place with fan-like thrusters before setting down for package retrieval.
Zipline’s original P1 drones will remain in production and in wide use, says Rinaudo Cliffton. The P1 Zip can fly a longer distance, delivering up to five pounds of cargo within a 60-mile radius, but it requires a larger space for take off, landings and “the drop.”
The P1 Zip lets cargo down with a parachute attached, so its payload lands within a space about the size of two car parking spots. After a P1 Zip returns to base, an employee needs to disassemble it, then set up a new one, dropping in a freshly charged battery for the next flight.
Zipline’s new P2 Zip can dock and power up autonomously at a charging station that looks something like a street lamp with an arm and a large disc attached to that arm:
Before developing the P2 Zip, Zipline had established logistics networks in Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Japan, Kenya, Nigeria and Rwanda already. It is operating some drone delivery networks in the US, in North Carolina, Arkansas and Utah — but the P2 will help it expand that network.
Partners who plan to test deliveries via P2 Zip include the healthy fast-casual restaurant Sweetgreen, Intermountain Health in Salt Lake City, Michigan Medicine, Multicare Healthcare System in Tacoma, Wash., and the government of Rwanda.