Bono lends star power as US startup begins drone delivery of blood in PH

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With U2 frontman Bono serving as its main endorser, US-based drone delivery startup Zipline formally inked a partnership with the Philippine Red Cross to begin making on-demand and emergency blood deliveries by drone across the country.

U2 frontman Bono gestures during the press briefing announcing the tie-up between drone delivery startup Zipline and the Philippine Red Cross

The announcement was made during a jam-packed signing ceremony in Mandaluyong City featuring Philippine Red Cross chairman and CEO Senator Richard Gordon, US ambassador Sung Kim, Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo, and rock superstar Bono, who also serves as a board member of the drone delivery startup.

Starting with blood from the Philippine Red Cross, and expanding to include over 150 critical and life-saving medical products, the revolutionary new service will use a network of autonomous drones to make on-demand emergency deliveries.

The service, which is expected to launch in the summer of 2020, is capable of operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Zipline plans to establish three distribution centers, which will be collectively capable of making hundreds of deliveries per day to thousands of health facilities serving millions of people across the country.

The company plans to launch the first of its three planned distribution centers in the Visayas region. Future distribution centers will potentially help the partnership expand service to Eastern Visayas and Mindanao.

Zipline provides on-demand instant delivery by drone of more than 150 critical and life-saving medical products, including blood and vaccines. Health workers place orders by text message and receive their deliveries in 30 minutes on average. The drones both take off from and land at Zipline’s distribution centers, requiring no additional infrastructure at the clinics they serve.  

The drones fly autonomously and can carry 1.8 kilos of cargo, flying up to 145 kilometers an hour, and have a round trip range of 160 kilometers in high winds and rain. Each Zipline distribution center can deliver to an area of more than 20,000 square miles serving populations of up to 12 million people. Deliveries are made from the sky, with the drone descending to a safe height above the ground and releasing a box of medicine by parachute to a designated spot at the health centers it serves.

Bono, whose band U2 will be performing for the first in the Philippines for a one-night concert on December 11 at the Philippine Arena, said Zipline represents the various humanitarian causes he has taken up in his decades-long music career.

For his part, Zipline co-founder and chief executive Rinaudo said the heights which the startup has achieved has only proved that there’s a real need for a novel and efficient way to transport blood and emergency kits to far-flung areas.

“Millions of people in the Philippines can’t access the vital medical products they need because of last-mile transportation challenges,” said Rinaudo, who is engaged to be married to a Filipina.

“Zipline’s instant drone delivery service was designed to help solve that problem. We’re honored to partner with The Philippine Red Cross to make sure that patients across the country can access the blood they need to stay alive no matter where they are and no matter the circumstances.”

Zipline said more than two billion people across the world cannot access the medicine they need to stay healthy and alive because of last-mile transportation challenges. This is especially true in the Philippines, where just over half of the country’s close to 105 million people live in rural areas across more than 7,000 islands.

“Millions of those rural citizens are among the Philippines’ most vulnerable populations, living in the country’s more than 4,000 geographically isolated disadvantaged areas, or GIDA,” it said.

While delivering medicine to patients in these and other communities is a challenge in the best of weather conditions, it is made all the more difficult during natural disasters like typhoons, earthquakes, landslides, and tropical storms when roads become washed out or are impassable altogether, according to Zipline.

“All too often, these medical access challenges result in deaths. Zipline’s instant medical delivery service by drone was designed to help overcome these challenges and bring patients the vital medical supplies they need when they need them,” it said.

Zipline co-founder and CEO Keller Rinaudo

In addition to the Red Cross, Zipline will be working to expand its partnerships in the Philippines to include both government and private health care facilities, as well as the pharmaceutical industry to help expand universal health care access for millions of Filipinos.

Zipline said its autonomous drones have flown more than a million miles, made tens of thousands of on-demand medical deliveries, and helped to save thousands of lives in emergencies.

Since launching in October of 2016 to deliver blood to 21 hospitals in Rwanda, Zipline has expanded its service nationwide, putting most of the country’s 12 million citizens within minutes of a life-saving delivery of hundreds of medical products at 450 facilities.

In 2018, Zipline began working with the US Department of Defense — both the United States and Australia — to demonstrate how its technology could help transform emergency medicine and critical care in conflict, humanitarian, and disaster relief scenarios.

In April of 2019, Zipline partnered with the government of Ghana to launch four distribution centers that will serve 2,000 health facilities and a population of 12 million people across the country.

And in September of 2019, Zipline announced that it would expand its service to India as a part of a government initiative to put 120 million people within range of instant medical delivery by drone.

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