There are two pet peeves that just about every sick person has in common: a trip to the doctor’s office and a trip to the pharmacy.
The first problem has been addressed by services like telehealth, which take the visit out of the doctor’s visit. But unless you live next door to a pharmacy, you will probably still need to get dressed and go for a drive.
Unless you live in Utah’s Salt Lake Valley.
This week, drone delivery firm Zipline began flying commercially in the region with Intermountain Healthcare, a nonprofit hospital system that serves clients in Idaho, Utah and Nevada. The two companies are delivering prescriptions, over-the-counter medications and medical supplies, beginning with residents in Salt Lake and Utah counties and expanding over the next five years.
“We’ll begin by delivering to a select group of patients in the communities near our distribution center and will gradually expand to additional communities in the Salt Lake City metro [area],” a Zipline spokesperson told Modern Shipper. “Over time, we will be capable of delivering directly to more than 1 million people in the Salt Lake Valley, and eventually we and Intermountain can expand beyond that to serve other communities in Utah.”
To make use of the new service, customers will need to sign up on Zipline’s website. From there, the company will evaluate factors like yard size, location and surrounding airspace to determine whether they are eligible for deliveries. If a customer qualifies, Zipline will get in touch.
At first, deliveries will be limited to within a few miles of Zipline’s Salt Lake distribution center. Over time, the companies will add more distribution centers, opening up the service to more households and community drop-off locations.
Eventually, the drone delivery provider says its Salt Lake Valley network will be capable of reaching over 1 million customers, or around 90% of patient homes in the area.
Watch: Drones in The Backyard
“Think back to the last time you had a doctor’s visit and then had to trek to the pharmacy for your prescription, making what can already be a time-consuming experience that much more draining, or the last time your child was ill and you had to pack the family in the car just to get cold medicine,” said Bijal Mehta, head of global fulfillment operations at Zipline. “We believe instant delivery is a key element to the future of health care and we are excited to bring our service to the Salt Lake City area to make people’s lives better, easier and healthier.”
To facilitate those instant deliveries, which can take as little as 15 minutes, Zipline is using a fleet of small, fixed-wing aircraft that are fully autonomous. The drones can fly up to a 50-mile radius in harsh conditions like rain, wind and extreme temperatures, and they use a parachute mechanism to drop packages within an area the size of a few parking spots.
According to Zipline’s estimates, each flight produces about 30 times less carbon dioxide emissions per mile than an average electric vehicle and up to 98% less than a combustion engine vehicle. The aircraft also produce minimal sound so as not to disturb any people or animals below.
Gradually, Zipline and Intermountain Healthcare will move beyond the Salt Lake Valley to cover other communities in Utah.
“This partnership allows us to reach patients faster than we ever thought possible at a time that’s convenient for them,” said Gordon Slade, associate vice president of supply chain logistics at Intermountain Healthcare. “Combined with our telehealth services like Connect Care, it’s possible to virtually see a doctor and get medication you need delivered from Zipline, without having to travel to a clinic or the hospital.”
To date, Zipline has completed over 400,000 commercial deliveries, the bulk of which were for blood, vaccines and other medical supplies in sub-Saharan Africa. Each day, its combined fleet covers enough miles to traverse the equator — twice.