Air Supply

Medical delivery drones at your service.

May 2024

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Illustration of Zipline and Platform 2 machines

Illustrations by McKibillo

Keenan Wyrobek had come up with lofty ideas before. As an engineer and product designer, he had, for instance, co-created ROS, the operating system behind robotics software widely used at NASA and beyond. While brainstorming his next pursuit, he says, “the idea was in the air.”

His wife, epidemiologist Ana Maria Mora-Wyrobek, had long talked about critical shortfalls of medical supplies in many parts of the world. “I know what to do,” doctors would say, “but I don’t have the supplies to do it.” So Wyrobek, MS ’05, co-founded the drone delivery company Zipline in 2014 with a plan to make such resources available on demand. 

Zipline launched its first-generation long-range drone system in Rwanda in 2016 to distribute blood—a high priority for the country’s ministry of health. In many isolated mountain communities, blood was delivered once every two months. Demand was unpredictable, and health care workers sometimes found themselves driving hours to a regional blood center to cover supply shortages. Now, when a doctor places an order, Zipline staff load the blood into a drone, which takes about 90 seconds, and slingshot it toward its destination, where it usually arrives within 30 minutes.

These days, Zipline delivers 75 percent of the blood supply used by Rwandan medical facilities outside the capital. It has expanded to other countries in Africa, as well as the United States, the United Kingdom, and Japan, delivering everything from pharmaceuticals and vaccines to bandages. The company’s second-generation drone—launching in the United States later this year—was built for an urban landscape; it’s capable of delivering a prescription (or a pizza) to a residential doorstep using a near-silent dropdown delivery vessel on a retractable wire. 

Medical supply logistics are onerous, Wyrobek says. “It’s so powerful to simplify. You replace all that complexity when you do something on demand.”

Illustration of Zipline

P1 Goes Long

Zipline’s original drone, Platform 1, is loaded with blood or other medical supplies at a Zipline facility, then placed on a metal ramp with a slingshot-like catapult launcher that takes it from zero to 65 miles per hour in a third of a second. Using proprietary tools to detect and avoid other aircraft, the drone flies autonomously, even in inclement weather. When it arrives at the receiving hospital or clinic, it drops the package, attached to a small paper parachute, and returns to a Zipline facility to be reloaded.


• Service range: 120 miles round-trip

• Cruising speed: 60 mph

• Delivery area size: 2 parking spaces

• Payload capacity: 4 pounds

Since first launch

• Operational in 8 countries

• More than 15 million vaccine doses delivered globally

• 67 percent reduction in blood waste in Rwanda

Illustration of Platform 2

P2 Goes Home

The second-generation drone system, Platform 2, is expected to launch this year and will start out in Dallas. Platform 2 drones can dock, for example, at pharmacies and hospitals, where nurses and pharmacists load them on-site before sending them on to patients’ homes or to other clinics. Designed for short-range home deliveries, the drones can hover more than 300 feet above their destination while a “droid” delivery vessel quietly descends via retractable wire and deposits its contents on a doorstep or patio table. Like their forebear, Platform 2 drones are all-electric and zero-emission.


• Service range: 10-mile radius

• Cruising speed: 70 mph

• Delivery area size: 2-foot radius

• Payload capacity: 6 to 8 pounds

In the works

• Will deliver all manner of medical supplies, including prescriptions and lab samples, for Cleveland Clinic and Michigan Medicine

• Expanding food and retail delivery services with such partners as Sweetgreen and Walmart

Kali Shiloh is a staff writer at Stanford. Email her at

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