Zipline begins drone delivery of COVID-19 test samples in Ghana-CNBC AFRICA

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Report by Riley de Leon

Key Points:

  • Zipline has begun delivering Covid-19 test samples via drone in Ghana’s two largest cities, Accra and Kumasi.
  • It is the first time in history that autonomous drones have been used to make regular long-range deliveries into densely populated urban areas.
  • The start-up also has been working with the FAA to accelerate their launch of U.S. operations so it can distribute test kits and personal protective equipment via drone.

Zipline, the California-based drone-delivery start-up that delivers critical medical supplies in countries like Ghana, has begun delivering Covid-19 test samples in the country’s two largest cities — Accra, the nation’s capital, and Kumasi, the country’s second-largest city.

The service began Friday, when 51 test samples were collected from patients at rural health facilities and transported to the company’s distribution center in Omenako, Ghana. Over the course of four separate flights, the company delivered those 51 samples to the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research in Accra for testing and analysis.

The company will also be delivering Covid-19 test samples collected at regional hospitals near its Mapong distribution center to the Kumasi Center for Collaborative Research. The first such delivery took place on Saturday, April 18. The company said it expects to operate this new daily service for the duration of the government’s Covid-19 response efforts, marking the first time in history that autonomous drones have been used to make regular long-range deliveries into densely populated urban areas.

It is also the first time that drones have been used in this way to deliver Covid-19 test samples. The new delivery service allows the government to more closely monitor and respond to the spread of the disease in some of the countries most remote areas.

“Zipline is dedicated to helping Ghana in its fight against the Covid-19 pandemic,” said CEO Keller Rinaudo. “Using contactless drone delivery to transport Covid-19 test samples will allow the government to respond to the pandemic and help save lives more quickly.”

Since its launch in October 2016, the company’s autonomous drones have flown more than 2 million miles and delivered more than 60,000 vaccines, units of blood and other medical products in Ghana, Rwanda and India.

Before the Covid-19 outbreak, Zipline planned to launch U.S. operations in the fall of 2020, delivering to health facilities and homes. As the outbreak has worsened, the company has been working with the FAA on the necessary approvals needed to operate commercially, and says that they could do so within weeks of receiving said approval. According to a company statement, their emergency efforts in the U.S. would focus on the distribution of scarce resources like test kits and personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves and masks, as well as Covid-19 vaccines once they become available.

Zipline ranked No. 39 on the 2019 Disruptor 50 list. The 2020 Disruptor 50 list will be revealed this June.

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