Revolution.Aero Uplift: Zipline to any zip code


Anyone in Ghana with internet access can now order almost anything that weighs less than 3kg to their front door irrespective of how remote that door may be. Orders will arrive within 24hrs – in urban areas delivery times can be as little as 15-20mins.

How is this possible? Autonomous delivery solutions firm, Zipline, known mainly for its medical supply delivery system launched in Rwanda, is expanding into e-commerce. The company has partnered with African e-commerce giant, Jumia to launch an on-demand drone delivery service.

The pilot programme was launched in Ghana back in May and customers are receiving deliveries as you read this, following completion of testing a little over one week ago.

“What we do today is much larger than packed red blood cells, cryoprecipitate and blood plasma,” Daniel Blay, director, Africa, Zipline tells Revolution.Aero.

“From 2019 we began to expand into additional product categories, so you can take human pharmaceuticals and vaccines. But then this year it begins to get really exciting, through the partnership with Jumia we have started consumer goods and we are also looking at a number of other categories,” he says.

The two companies were a natural fit, Jumia’s e-commerce platform spans most of the African continent and Zipline operates the world’s largest autonomous on-demand delivery system.

Abdesslam Benzitouni, group head, Communication & Public Relations, Jumia tells Revolution.Aero that clean energy-powered delivery and automation were two key factors in deciding to use drones.

“It makes them more reliable and predictable with a GPS. Also, even after scaling, drones are very agile and adaptable to change in operation timings etc.,” says Benzitouni.

“[We knew because Zipline are] Already present in Africa, they have a deep commitment to the continent. They also already have investment in and all of the regulatory clearance to operate in three countries and will be opening more. It’s a proven solution and technology.”

The demand for e-commerce in Africa is there. And it is broader than just instant delivery, according to Blay. “There is also a point around access. If you take rural parts of Ghana, access to products is really challenging. Zipline’s business can distribute to anywhere, in say northern Ghana or central region within 45 minutes.”

Zipline sees this an opportunity to improve access for rural customers, whilst also making urban deliveries more convenient. Rural and remote areas make up 27% of Jumia’s deliveries, according to Benzitouni.

For price sensitive rural customers, cost can often represent a barrier to the adoption of new products. Benzitouni says, scaling autonomous electric drone delivery is likely to reduce operational costs in the long-term, given challenges with road infrastructure in remote Africa and the cost of diesel associated with traditional means of transportation.

Once operational in Ghana, Zipline and Jumia plan to expand the service to Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria and other countries in Africa.

So, what can Ghanaians order today? Benzitouni says: “Mostly fashion items, such as sport shoes, and cosmetics for now. Today the drone we used during testing carries around 3kg max.”

Blay adds: “In terms of heavier items it is feasible for a customer to have a smaller bag of rice delivered. If you were to take a step back and say where we will be in a year’s time, there’s a lot of opportunity to do something quite exciting with a large range of items.”