Zipline starts its first commercial US drone deliveries with Walmart

Zipline FAA drone deliveries

Just over a year after the pair decided to explore drone delivery services together, retail giant Walmart and instant logistics specialist Zipline are launching those air drops of health and wellness products to customers in the area around Pea Ridge, Arkansas. 

Since revealing their intent to start drone deliveries in Pea Ridge, Walmart and Zipline have been setting up strategies and infrastructure – and winning the backing of local residents – as they worked toward today’s official launch of the service. The app-based ordering system will prepare purchases in the local Neighborhood Market Walmart store, and fly those to destinations within a 50-mile radius ­– a space that pretty well covers most rural communities and isolated homes in northern Arkansas.

Indeed, flying Walmart health and over-the-counter medical supplies to relatively remote Walmart customers keeps Zipline rooted in the human-focused activity that has dominated its instant logistics and drone delivery work up until now. 

Since beginning operations in 2016, the company has made over 200,000 deliveries of more than 4.5 million units of medical supplies, benefitting more than 20 million people in a variety of countries. After starting out by transporting blood products in Rwanda, Zipline expanded its activity to other African nations like Nigeria and Ghana – the latter of which is now getting drone-dropped doses of Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA, ultra-cold-chain protected COVID-19 vaccines. 

The company has also pursued drone deliveries of medical supplies to isolated destinations in the US – first to rural North Carolina communities, and last week with the start of aerial medicine drops to patients in the Salt Lake City area whose conditions may decrease their mobility.

That operating philosophy is now being extended to Zipline’s drone delivery service with Walmart to get health and wellness products to farther-flung customers.

“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, Zipline cofounder and CEO. “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.”

To make it all work, the partners had to develop a first-of-its kind, 25-foot platform in back of the Neighborhood Market Walmart outlet. The structure will act as a takeoff, landing, and package loading facility, and will be used as an operating center for Zipline employees programming the automated flights and parachute drops at addresses customers indicate.

The two companies believe the venture will improve the lives of people using the service, and further shape and advance the evolution of drone delivery as a standard procedure for businesses.

“Zipline’s autonomous aircraft present an incredible opportunity to offer customers an on-demand delivery option for the items they need now, such as a thermometer, non-prescription medication or an emergency pack of diapers,” said Tom Ward, senior vice president, Last Mile Delivery, Walmart US. “Even more, 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.”

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