In 2013, former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos predicted Prime Air, the company’s then newly announced drone delivery unit, would be flying within four to five years. A decade later, the service appears to be no closer to reality than it was in 2018. However, some drone startups have had more success. Among those is Zipline, which says it’s on track to complete about 1 million deliveries by the end of the year. By 2025, the company expects to operate more flights than most airlines, a feat it intends to accomplish thanks to its next-generation drone, the Platform 2 or P2 Zip.
Zipline’s latest drone consists of two autonomous vehicles that will work in unison with one another to deliver packages that weigh up to 8 pounds. The first is a UAV that can complete a 10-mile flight in about 10 minutes. When it arrives at its destination, P2 Zip will hover about 300 feet off the ground and deploy its sidekick, an adorable “fully autonomous delivery droid.” The latter descends from its counterpart using a tether – the company is called Zipline for a reason – and gently drops off your package. According to Zipline, P2 Zip is nearly silent in flight, producing a sound the company claims is similar to rustling leaves in the wind, and precise enough, thanks to its droid companion, to deliver packages to areas as small as patio tables and front steps. Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo Cliffton told CNBC P2 Zip may even put an end to porch pirates since the drone is fast enough to enable on-demand delivery.
For more distant deliveries, the P2 Zip can fly up to 24 miles one way from dock to dock, charging at each docking station before completing the next leg of its journey and picking up new cargo. The drone’s charging station looks like something from science fiction. It features a chute for the delivery droid to enter the building the station is attached to, and what looks like a net to catch one of the drones if they fall. The company told CNBC setting up a P2 Zip dock takes about as much time as installing an electric vehicle charger. It envisions restaurants and hospitals installing the dock to enable the fast delivery of food and prescriptions.
Zipline already has a few customers eager to test the P2 Zip, including restaurant chain Sweetgreen, Intermountain Health in Salt Lake City, Michigan Medicine and Multicare Healthcare in Washington State. Before those companies gain access to the drone sometime next year, the startup plans to conduct more than 10,000 test flights with about 100 aircraft.