Drone startup Zipline hits 1 million deliveries, looks to restaurants as it continues to grow

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A drone operator loads a Walmart package into Zipline’s P1 fixed-wing drone for delivery to a customer home in Pea Ridge, Arkansas, on March 30, 2023.
Bunee Tomlinson

Autonomous delivery drone startup Zipline said Friday that it hit its 1 millionth delivery to customers and that it’s eyeing restaurant partnerships in its next phase of growth.

The San Francisco-based startup designs, builds and operates autonomous delivery drones, working with clients that range from more than 4,700 hospitals, including the Cleveland Clinic, to major brands such as Walmart and GNC. It’s raised more than $500 million so far from investors including Sequoia Capital, a16z and Google Ventures. Zipline is also a CNBC Disruptor 50 company.

The company said its zero-emission drones have now flown more than 70 million autonomous commercial miles across four continents and delivered more than 10 million products.

The milestone 1 millionth delivery carried two bags of IV fluid from a Zipline distribution center in Ghana to a local health facility.

As the company continues to expand, it will bring on Panera Bread in Seattle, Memorial Hermann Health System in Houston, and Jet’s Pizza in Detroit.

Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo Cliffton told CNBC that 70% of the company’s deliveries have happened in the past two years and, in the future, the goal is to do 1 million deliveries a day.

“The three areas where the incentive really makes the most sense today are health care, quick commerce and food, and those are the three main markets that we focus on,” Rinaudo Cliffton said. “Our goal is to work with really the best brands or the best institutions in each of those markets.”

The push into restaurant partnerships marks an “obvious transition” he said, due to the continuing growth in interest in instant food delivery. Zipline already delivers food from Walmart to customers.

“We need to start using vehicles that are light, fast, autonomous and zero-emission,” Rinaudo Cliffton said. “Delivering in this way is 10 times as fast, it’s less expensive … and relative to the traditional delivery apps that most restaurants will be working with, we triple the service radius, which means you actually [get] 10 times the number of customers who are reachable via instant delivery.”

Zipline deliveries for some Panera locations in Seattle are expected to begin next year, the Panera franchisee’s Chief Operating Officer Ron Bellamy told CNBC. Delivery continues to grow for its business, even in an inflationary environment, he said. Costs with Zipline are anticipated to be on par with what third-party delivery is now, he added, with the hope of that cost lowering over time. 

“I’m encouraged about it, not just even in terms of what I can do for the business, but as a consumer, I think at the end of the day, if it is economical, and it delivers a better overall experience, then the consumer will speak,” Bellamy said.

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