Japan approves Zipline drone medical deliveries

An important test case for long-distance drone delivery commences.

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Zipline

Residents of Japan's remote Gotō Islands will have new access to medical supplies. That's thanks to Japan's first-ever routine, commercial long-distance drone delivery route.

The route comes via a partnership with Toyota Tsusho Corporation, a member of the Toyota Group, and Zipline, a drone logistics company. The rollout is the latest in a long line of international firsts for drone delivery that seems to be pointing toward a nearby future of routinized aerial delivery. Zipline's fixed-wing drones drop packages via parachute.

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"The Toyota Group has a decades-long track record of excellence across transportation and logistics; now, they're ready to take on the next frontier of mobility," said Keller Rinaudo, co-founder and CEO of Zipline. "Together, we're taking an important step toward unlocking the impact of autonomous instant logistics technology in new use cases, new airspaces and entirely new geographies." 

Medical supply deliveries will commence from a distribution center in Fukue Port. Zipline has been setting up similar distribution centers around the world, but this marks the first in Asia as well as the first to be operated by a partner company. That expansion is noteworthy and indicative of the softening regulatory and compliance situation regarding drone delivery in many markets. With the ability to partner and turn over operations of drone delivery services, companies like Zipline are on pace to scale rapidly.

The distribution center will be the disembarkation point for medical supplies and drugs to pharmacies and hospitals across the Gotō Islands. Pointedly, these are long-distance flights that will travel beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS). Successful drone delivery depends as much on logistics and backend warehousing capabilities as hardware. Zipline offers end-to-end delivery services.

"The Toyota Group has a decades-long track record of excellence across transportation and logistics; now, they're ready to take on the next frontier of mobility," said Keller Rinaudo, co-founder and CEO of Zipline. "Together, we're taking an important step toward unlocking the impact of autonomous instant logistics technology in new use cases, new airspaces and entirely new geographies."

In the U.S., the Beyond Visual Line of Sight Aviation Rulemaking Committee (BVLOS ARC) of the FAA recently published its final report. The committee is charged with paving the way toward broader commercial use of drones in the U.S., and its findings are being widely applauded by many in the sector who have sought a broader scope for commercial drone operations, including in applications like search and rescue and delivery.

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