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Zipline launches US commercial deliveries with Walmart

Drone company’s operations are primarily in Africa, Southeast Asia

Packages will be delivered out of the Pea Ridge Walmart Neighborhood Market (Photo: Zipline)

Zipline has made a name for itself as the drone company for underserved and remote populations, delivering emergency medical supplies like vaccines and blood transfusions to remote locations across Africa and Southeast Asia. Now it’s coming to the U.S.

Zipline and Walmart (NYSE: WMT) have partnered to launch an autonomous drone delivery service in Pea Ridge, Arkansas, which will mark the company’s first commercial deliveries in the U.S. The rollout of the new service closely follows news earlier this month about Zipline’s on-demand delivery service in the Salt Lake City metro area as the Bay Area-based company continues to bolster its domestic presence.

The service that just launched in Pea Ridge will facilitate on-demand deliveries of health and wellness items from the town’s Walmart Neighborhood Market. Eligible customers within range of the service will be able to receive same-day deliveries of products like thermometers, diapers and nonprescription medication.

Since announcing the service about a year ago, Zipline and Walmart have constructed a first-of-its-kind 25-foot platform behind the Neighborhood Market, which will serve as the infrastructure for takeoff and landing. The custom-built platform will store Zipline’s proprietary aircraft and its flight operations crew. At full capacity, Zipline says the Pea Ridge service will have a delivery radius of 50 miles –– that’s nearly the length of Connecticut.

An aerial view of Walmart’s Pea Ridge Neighborhood Market, behind which sits a custom-built drone takeoff and landing platform. (Photo: Zipline)

“Zipline’s aircraft can help provide immediate access to needed items for both hard-to-reach and at-risk populations, such as rural communities and elderly customers,” said Tom Ward, senior vice president of last-mile delivery for Walmart U.S. “By bringing this game-changing technology to the rural community of Pea Ridge, Arkansas, we’re continuing to look for ways to make shopping with Walmart convenient and easy — for everyone.”

The process to take advantage of the service is simple. Eligible customers can open the Zipline app, choose their products and select a delivery time at checkout. From there, Walmart associates pick and pack the products and hand them off to Zipline’s flight crew, which loads the items onto the aircraft and prepares it for launch. Then the aircraft takes off, flies directly to the customer’s house, drops off the order and returns to the platform — all on its own.

Zipline’s autonomous drones look like miniature airplanes, but they don’t need a pilot. (Photo: Zipline)

“We’ve seen firsthand the impact that instant logistics can have in making important, even life-saving, products available on a moment’s notice,” said Keller Rinaudo, co-founder and CEO of Zipline. “At the same time, the past two years have proven the need to bring health products closer to home, where they are more accessible. Working with Walmart, we’re able to bring this type of service to Northwest Arkansas, showcasing what the future of health access looks like.”

While the service in Pea Ridge is Zipline’s first commercial drone delivery network in the U.S., it’s not the company’s only presence. A week prior to the Pea Ridge rollout, Zipline announced a partnership with Intermountain Healthcare, delivering prescriptions and medical supplies to about 90% of the Salt Lake City metro area. That partnership has helped bring medical care closer to home for the city’s residents.

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“For example,” said Rinaudo, “a cancer patient could receive her medication without ever leaving her home. Or a single parent could get his child’s antibiotics without a trip to the pharmacy. Instant access to care is not just about convenience. It comes down to making health care more equitable, efficient and reliable for people, regardless of where they live or their circumstances.”

Since launching its operations in 2016, Zipline has done a great job of that. The company so far has completed more than 200,000 commercial deliveries carrying over 4.5 million units of vaccines, emergency medical tests, blood transfusions and other medical supplies. More than 20 million people worldwide have received Zipline’s services.

Meanwhile, for Walmart, the Pea Ridge partnership is just the latest expansion of its delivery service into new modes and methods. Already, the retail behemoth leverages a countrywide network of third-party delivery and service providers, offers delivery services to businesses through its white-label GoLocal program and is at the forefront of autonomous innovations in the space, partnering on driverless vehicles with companies like Ford.

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Jack Daleo

Jack Daleo is a staff writer for Flying Magazine covering advanced air mobility, including everything from drones to unmanned aircraft systems to space travel — and a whole lot more. He spent close to two years reporting on drone delivery for FreightWaves, covering the biggest news and developments in the space and connecting with industry executives and experts. Jack is also a basketball aficionado, a frequent traveler and a lover of all things logistics.