Zipline launches drone delivery of medical supplies in Japan with Toyota Tsusho 

Zipline drone delivery japan

Leading instant logistics specialist Zipline is expanding its geographical area of activity from existing African and US operations with new drone deliveries of medical supplies to Japan’s Gotō Islands.

Zipline said its entry into Japan will come through a partnership with Toyota Tsusho Corp., a subsidiary of the eponymous automotive group. The host company will create the Sora-iina subsidiary to manage drone deliveries of medical products to Gotō Islands hospitals and pharmacies, making it the 14th Zipline associate to operate the company’s instant logistics tech. 

The pairing marks an evolution in the relationships between Zipline and Toyota Tsusho, which has been an investor in the San Francisco startup since 2018. Apart from that, however, the new service represents unchartered territory for both companies – and, indeed, UAV operations in Japan.

Services will be expanded gradually across the Gotō Islands, a chain covering about 50 miles west of Kyūshū, with a population of about 50,000 people. Zipline says initial drone deliveries of medical supplies will involve roundtrip beyond visual line of sight flights of up to 40 kilometers and will be developed to reach increasingly remote locations. 

With road conveyance impossible between the 140 total islands (and five main localities), use of UAVs to assure routine distribution of medical goods is expected to cut current sea and air transport options from several, costly hours down to 30 minutes. But the new endeavor will face significant challenges, and be carefully watched by multiple actors.

Though drone use is growing in Japan, those activities are highly regulated – and thus still limited – in a country whose air spaces are crowded, and on-ground populations fairly densely packed. Margins for and tolerance of errors, therefore, will be slim.

Be that as it may, Zipline cofounder and CEO Keller Rinaudo is confident the respective and shared experience of both partners will assure their success above the Gotō Islands.

“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 Rinaudo. “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.”

Its entry into Japan supplements Zipline’s activities in Rwanda, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, and other African nations, as well as medical supply deliveries in North Carolina, and drone services for Walmart in Arkansas. All told, the company has made nearly 280,000 deliveries via autonomously flying drones, covering some 20 million miles.

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