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BusinessWe are engineers from Zipline and today we made 17 lifesaving deliveries by drone in Rwanda. We fly through rain and wind to 8+ hospitals across the country. Ask us anything!

Jun 22nd 2017 by zipline_ryan • 11 Questions • 3666 Points

Day 2 and we're still live! Keep the questions coming!

We are Zipline , the world's first drone delivery service operating at national scale. A lot of folks claim to do crazy things, but we're a bit different because we really are doing crazy things.

We've been making real deliveries since last October. We've made several thousand flights in Rwanda, delivering real blood to real patients at eight different hospitals across the country. We've built have an awesome team running flights seven days a week, well into the night. Just today, we made 17 blood deliveries, including one delivery to each of the 8 hospitals we serve!

Our engineering and business team here in the U.S. is located on a cattle ranch overlooking the Pacific Ocean where we also do all of our test flights.

We take a pretty different approach than most companies when it comes to tackling seemingly-impossible problems. We're here today because we think we're working on something pretty special and not that many people know about it.

Joining us today, I've peeled away some folks to answer all of your questions.

  • Abdoul (AbdoulSalam) leads our Distribution Center in Rwanda. He's a hacker, tinkerer, and work-horse. One of the smartest Rwandans you've ever met! (It's also the middle of the night for Abdoul right now - thanks for staying up!)
  • Alain (zipline_alain) is a fellow Redditor and software engineer. He's built an ordering system that is simpler than checking out on most sites, yet works over WhatsApp, phone, or web when the Internet decides to work.
  • Jeremy (jdschw) designs our automated air traffic control. He enables fleets of our Zips to fly together, safely.
  • Ciara (zipline_ciara) runs recruiting, has the sweetest pitbull (Sarge!), and will climb any rock she finds.
  • Lastly, I'm Ryan (zipline_ryan), I lead the software team and spend a lot of time thinking about what the future looks like.

Checkout our website and apply to us if you are excited by our mission. More photos and videos on Twitter.

Proof - here is Alain, Ryan, and Jeremy. Abdoul is in Rwanda and Ciara is working from the road today.

We'll be here taking your questions starting at 4:30p PDT (7:30p EDT) and we'll stay as long as you've got questions! And, we're live! Ready to take your questions.

Q:

Arent you scared that people will "hunt" these drones?

A:

Hasn't been a problem so far!


Q:

Building reliable roads, especially in the "land of a thousand hills" aka Rwanda, is a long and expensive process. With Zips, we can reliably transport life-saving medical supplies without this infrastructure.

A:

The problem was pretty clear and we thought technology could solve it. I'm pretty motivated by the clear positive impact we're having.


Q:

How fast does the Zip get accelerated during launch? Is there any concern about damaging delicate cargo?

Does the delivery get dropped from the air or is there a launch/landing system at both ends?

Also just want to say that the video of Abdoul and the Zip is astounding.

A:

If you think launch is cool, wait until you see landing!


Q:

Just spent a while looking at all the awesome videos of launches, landings, and deliveries. Amazing!

A:

If you're asking about why there are two air bags, its so we can always land into a headwind (a much easier maneuver!). It is one system that can pivot to catch a plane in either direction.


Q:

Programmer here. Can you tell me a bit about what tech you use in your planes? What OS on your aircraft? What programming languages do you use? What hardware?

A:

We've built our own avionics with our own autopilot. Our Zips (planes) are designed to be crazy reliable. So we've got 11 microcontrollers, with redundant processors for flight critical computation. And we use C on the plane, plus C++/Python on the ground.


Q:

Got a github page? ;-)

A:

We're not open source, but it would be a nice goal someday! Our software team is too small to support the overhead today.


Q:

What is your favourite dinosaur?

A:

Dragonite


Q:

I'm assuming you all went to universities so (if you did) which university did you guys go to and what type of engineering degree did you earn?

P.S. I love your work. I'm currently an undergraduate senior in mechanical engineering and aspire to use my degree to help others in the world.

A:

Most of us have engineering degrees. Mechanical, aerospace engineering, software, robotics, controls, industrial, etc. We don't care so much about what you've done, but more so about what you can do! Beyond just the degree, make sure to make the most of your time to learn by doing. You can only learn so much from classwork.


Q:

That's super rad! How many of you are there?

And thanks for the tip! I actually just got accepted into a 2 6-month internship program for ME, so I'm very excited for the real world engineering experience. I had a hunch it's a lot different than classwork.

A:

We had about 25 or so engineers (and counting!).


Q:

Was it you guys that wanted to do a pilot study here in Costa Rica? What happened to that?

A:

Yes! Costa Rica has a lot of interest in using Zipline to provide first-class health care to even the most remote populations.


Q:

All our vehicles are fully autonomous, from launch to delivery and back! We do have a great flight operation crew handling the vehicles on the ground.

A:

We have a large (and growing) flight operations team. Apply through our website - http://flyzipline.com/jobs