Marking the first long-range routine commercial drone deliveries to Japan, US drone company Zipline and logistics company Toyota Tsusho reported medical deliveries in May to the remote Gotō Islands, a chain of dozens of small islands in the off the west coast of Kyushu. in southwestern Japan. The first trial delivery with a Zipline drone was successfully completed on April 28 for a medical facility on Naru-Island, Goto City, Nagasaki Prefecture. The service is expected to reduce delivery times from several hours to 15-30 minutes. With commercial flights set to begin soon, this also marks Zipline’s first strategic operational partnership, providing a new model for scaling our instant logistics system across the globe. Okeoma MoronuZipline’s Aviation Regulatory and Legal Affairs Manager discusses the scope and scope of the project.
When did this merger take place between Toyota Tsusho and Zipline? What else can you tell us about this strategic partnership between Zipline and Toyota Tsusho?
Toyota Tsusho Corporation (TTC) and Zipline have been partners since 2018 when TTC invested in Zipline. Since then, we have discussed many opportunities to expand our partnership, and we are excited to enter this new chapter together. This is Zipline’s first strategic operating partnership, providing a new model for scaling our instant logistics system around the world.
Under the partnership, Zipline will provide its autonomous aircraft, logistics technology and operational expertise to a TTC subsidiary, Sora-iina, which will manage and distribute medical supplies to pharmacies and hospitals on the Gotō Islands, including the remote and isolated areas. These are Japan’s first routine, commercial and long-range drone deliveries. Our partnership will initially focus on delivering medical supplies to the Gotō Islands, with the possibility of expanding to other locations and uses in the future.
Where will these medical deliveries be made in Japan and what can you tell us about the community that will benefit?
Sora-iina will operate a distribution center in Fukue Port, providing on-demand access to important medical supplies, such as patient prescriptions, to healthcare facilities and pharmacies on the Gotō Islands. The delivery area will begin with regular flights to Naru Island, with plans to expand it to western Fukue Island, Shinkamigoto and other areas.
What are the drones that will be used in this operation, do you give specific details on this subject?
Our planes are autonomous fixed-wing drones with a wingspan of 3.3m, a round-trip range of 160km and a cruise speed of 100km/h, and they can carry packages weighing up to 1.8 kg. All aircraft are launched from a distribution center that can service an area of over 20,000 square kilometers.
They fly completely autonomously, and when the plane reaches its intended destination, they drop the package using a simple paper parachute. The package will land in an area on the ground the size of a few parking spaces. The whole process can take as little as 15 minutes, depending on distance, providing a faster, safer and more sustainable delivery model.
Is it true that initial deliveries will include beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations that will extend up to 40 kilometers per round trip and enable on-demand access to hundreds of medical products? Give more details about this?
Correct: Initial routes from Fukue Port Distribution Center will be up to 20km (40km round trip). They will be conducted beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) without visual observers, providing quick, on-demand access to medical supplies, such as patient prescriptions, to healthcare facilities and pharmacies on the Gotō Islands.
Notably, this is the first time the Civil Aviation Bureau of Japan has approved beyond-visual-line-of-sight drones without on-board cameras, a testament to the sophistication of Zipline’s technology for planning and flight path tracking, operational safety and autonomous design.
What is the size of the operations for this particular use case, what are the fulfillment centers and where will the medical deliveries be made? Are there any temperature sensitive features that will be used in this operation, if so give details?
The Fukue Port Distribution Center will cover a service area of over 20,000 square kilometers. It will be able to serve health facilities that care for the approximately 50,000 residents of the Gotō Islands and those beyond, who live within the service area. The delivery area will begin with regular flights to Naru Island, with plans to expand it to western Fukue Island, Shinkamigoto and other areas.
Why was Japan and in particular Toyota Tsusho chosen as a partner for this project? Is sustainability an important aspect of this decision-making – explain? Has Zipline partnered with other companies in Japan for similar or other use cases?
This launch is the culmination of a multi-year partnership between Zipline and Toyota Tsusho, which began in 2018 when TTC invested in Zipline. Japan has a proven history of innovation and leadership in transportation, robotics, and sustainability. And TTC in particular is a global leader in operational excellence and mobility industry expertise. This is an ideal partnership to pilot a new operating model for Zipline, as well as bringing automated on-demand delivery to Japan for the first time.
The partnership also builds on existing sustainability practices in the Gotō Islands and throughout Japan. Compared to conventional car or van deliveries, Zipline’s self-driving aircraft have been shown to produce 98% fewer carbon emissions, creating a safer and more sustainable on-demand delivery system for the planet.