Keenan Wyrobek, Co-Founder, CTO, and Product Architect of Zipline, joins host Jeff Dance to discuss the future of drone delivery. They unveil the current state of the industry, the most recent developments in drone delivery, how Zipline became the market’s leader, and some of the biggest opportunities drone delivery can save and improve lives.
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:00:01: There’s no question that Zipline is going to be the first company to get to a billion autonomous flight hours. The data and experience that you get from that, as well as all that time to mature those systems and make them rock solid, we’re building the best autonomy platform for the future of flight. I’m excited down the road to find a way to bring that to things like flying cars.
Jeff – 00:00:23: Welcome to The Future Of, a podcast by Fresh Consulting, where we discuss and learn about the future of different industries, markets, and technology verticals. Together, we’ll chat with leaders and experts in the field and discuss how we can shape the future human experience. I’m your host, Jeff Dance. In this episode of The Future Of, we’re joined by Keenan Wyrobek. Co-founder and CTO of Zipline to explore the future of drone delivery.
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:00:56: Great to be with you.
Jeff – 00:00:57: Thanks for joining us, Keenan. Your background is really impressive. I noted that you started your career in robotics in the early 2000s, after leaving Stanford’s Doctorate of Philosophy program. And then you got involved with ROS. Tell us more about your involvement with ROS.
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:01:12: So technically I didn’t finish my PhD. So my PhD was starting ROS and we tried to fund it at Stanford. And when we finally met the guy who funded ROS development, he’s like, I will fund this for you, but you have to leave Stanford. And so it was one of those things where my advisor and my parents, when I was one year away from a PhD, they’re like, you’re gonna do what now? Great decision. And so moved on and grew it from scratch at that point. It’s been a wild seven years after that.
Jeff – 00:01:40: It’s amazing how much ROS has grown. I mean obviously we have dozens of people here at Fresh that work on it, but you know last year 500 million downloads. I mean it’s such a major backbone of robotics and everything that you know ROS 2 now has become. Do you guys use ROS with Zipline? Is that like a core backbone of an extension of what you started?
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:02:02 We do use it, not as much as I would like to. And I think that if ROS 2 had come along earlier, we were using ROS a lot more. But for the reasons ROS 2 existed, we had to develop something different before ROS 2 came along.
Jeff – 00:02:15: Well, in 2014, you founded Zipline. As I understand it, the world’s largest autonomous delivery system, valued at $4.2 billion. That’s pretty significant for a company that puts you among some of the great founders of the world. Pretty significant. Tell us a bit more.
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:02:33: Yes, as far as I know, by the way, I think as far as we know, this is the biggest autonomous system, delivery aside, pretty exciting. We fly today the equivalent of four times the equator of the earth in distance every single day.
Jeff – 00:02:44: Wow. Having been involved in some drone aspects, a lot of robotics projects, that’s a really significant feat. Freshly developed one of the largest autonomous platforms for industrial vehicles, but drones were like early stage, it seemed like years ago, but there was so much promise and so, Fast forwarding today and looking at Zipline and sort of their world leadership, it’s great to be talking to you. Tell us a bit more about Zipline. As I understand it, some of the earliest missions were kind of blood and vaccine delivery. Tell us more about who you guys partner with today.
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:03:16: So we have operations in seven countries today, and most of those are national scale now in terms of scale, which is really exciting. So we got our start in blood and blood delivery, and it’s not coming from logistics personally. This was, as a product sort of person and an robotics person is like, okay, blood, short shelf life, always rare, there’s never enough blood. And so if you can hold it back and deliver it where you know you need it rather than having to guesstimate and having a lot of blood expire on the shelf where it’s used, you could really have a big impact. It was only really once we started using it for that use case, all these other use cases in healthcare, in consumer goods delivery, in hot food, and good food delivery have just come out of the woodwork. And so today around the world, we do a lot of things in healthcare, everything from blood to vaccines to pharmaceuticals, delivering to hospitals and clinics and patient homes. And then we do all kinds of things adjacent to that. Animal health is a big thing for us in a lot of places in the world. We do food delivery, consumer goods delivery. And what’s really exciting about Zipline is not only we, compared to someone driving on the road, we’re just much faster, right? We don’t get stuck in traffic and we fly faster, right? Big wins. And the environmental impact is just phenomenally improved. We’re talking about a 97% reduction, right? There’s very few things you can do where you take the status quo and replace it with something that only has 7%, the 3% the environmental impact.
Jeff– 00:04:36: That’s the tech for good aspect of the company.
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:04:39 Oh, absolutely.
Jeff – 00:04:40: Amazing. When you have life-saving things like blood and people understand the importance of that, you can cut through some red tape and some of the unknown and the name of that and get going and then on top of that success, I can just see how obviously all the benefits and the use cases are there, but it’s kind of cool that you started that imperative backbone which no one can argue with. Hey, getting medicine, getting the life-saving aspects via drones, it’s a great strategy.
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:05:09: Yeah, absolutely. Starting where the value is, in every sense of the word, if you’re doing some brand new tech, which of course is always harder, more expensive, and things like that in the early days than you want it to be, if you’re doing something that people really fricking value, it’ll just, you’re gonna get through it in a way this, like you said, the road gets plowed for you.
Jeff – 00:05:25: Tell us why you started Zipline at the beginning. Obviously, any founder story components that you want to share.
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:05:32: Yeah, absolutely. You know, after ROS, I spent a couple of years exploring a lot of different options. We really wanted to find something that I would have a big impact like ROS did. And also we could really scale. And with ROS had already scaled up point in time way beyond my dreams. I still remember when we first pitched ROS is like, it’ll be the Linux of robotics. And people were like, get out of here. And all of a sudden it was happening. And I knew that we couldn’t rush. It takes a while to find something special. Right. And my co-founders and I who ended up being my co-founders, we all family and public health, my wife’s an epidemiologist. And it was really on their encouragement of like, Hey, go look into these health campaigns and just get stuck on logistics. You know, at this point in time, Amazon had already talked about drones for delivery a few years before that. And it was kind of like, all right, let’s go dig into this. You know, I’m a skeptic, so I went out to dig into it, assuming I’m going to find a thousand reasons why we could not make an impact here, but the opposite happened is more than farther. We got into it. The more it was like, Oh yeah, we can definitely solve this problem. And I, I remember one catalyzing moment for me was visiting this warehouse, a medical supply warehouse, and outside the warehouse, there was like two football fields of medical supplies, just in boxes, just two stories high kept asking, what is that? Why is this outside? And they, no one wanted to answer. And eventually found out this was all expired medicine. It was like, all right, the medical supplies are there. The need is there. If we can just get these things from point A to point B, we can have a huge impact. And that’s what we decided to go for.
Jeff – 00:06:50: That’s awesome. You mentioned around the world, like how many continents, how many countries, like how many drones? Give us more numbers.
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:06:58: So we’re in Africa and a handful of countries today. We are in Japan and we’re in Arkansas and Utah here in the US today.
Jeff– 00:07:07: So all over the world. And you mentioned that sad about flying flight miles. So are there hundreds of drones kind of out delivering essentially on the daily?
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:07:17: All the time. We have this awesome view in our atrium when you walk in the front door of our office where there’s an animation that any given time, the number of drones in that animation flying around the animation are the number of drones we have in the air. It looks like it just dying cloud of drones. It’s really quite impressive. And I think this also is like ties into the stuff that we get really passionate about around, when you’re operating a scale like this, what matters. And one of the things that matters most to us is that these drones not only are reliable, you can count on these deliveries, but you just don’t notice them. I think about it’s like right now, probably where you’re sitting and where I’m sitting, there’s birds flying over us right now and we just don’t know. And that’s what we want drones to be like.
Jeff – 00:07:55 They’re invisible in a sense. I mean, you might see them, but they’re just doing their job. Who plans the missions and kind of, and does all the routing and stuff like that? I’m assuming you guys can help things get set up. Is there like a new job type that’s emerged as a result of everything that’s happening?
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:08:10: Oh, absolutely. We have a team at Zipline, and that’s what they do. For every new delivery site that comes on, they help place get onboarded and they bring them into our network. Now, once they do that, it’s fully autonomous. So like when our drones are flying, they go do their missions automatically. The only oversight we provide is at the fleet level. We might close an area, and once we do close an area, if we need to for some reason, the Zips themselves automatically clear that area. But yeah, there’s the technology, right? Our customers, they care about how seamless this is. And so the technology just needs to melt into the background. Another area of that, part of that technology is how do you bring on a new hospital, a new clinic, a new home delivery site in a way that’s just easy for anybody to interact with?
Jeff – 00:08:48: You mentioned a couple of states here in the US and then Africa and Japan. Are you finding that, as my assumption, but a lot less regulation in other countries to.
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:08:59: No, no, I think that everywhere we operate, it’s on a special approval. There’s no country in the world that’s like, hey, if you follow these rules, you can do this. And so everywhere we go, there’s been an involved process, at least months, if not a closer year, of going through the certification process to get the approvals to do what we do and work through all the airspace integration details with the regulator. And yeah, and so some regulators are faster than others. It’s been sort of a philosophy of Zipline to not bet the company on any one regulator. So that’s one of the reasons we work in so many places to make sure we manage that risk. But this again comes back to, now that we’re operating, the value is so apparent, right? There’s all these studies and other things that have really come out to show what this does, that now it’s no longer like, is it important? Is this an experiment? Is this some kind of pilot? It’s like, no, no, no, lots of countries really want it. And so there’s a lot of political pressure in a lot of countries to find the right solution from the regulatory perspective, which is great, including here, which is moving along at a great clip.
Jeff– 00:09:53: As the biggest company in the space, what makes Zipline unique? Is it the hardware, is it the software, is it the way you brought the whole service ecosystem together and how people get set up? Tell us more about the special sauce because there’s been what like dozens if not hundreds of companies in this space.
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:10:12: So there’s really two answers to that question. There’s a technology answer to that question. We have built a phenomenal technology stack that just works, right? And a lot of things that most people don’t even assume we have to build, right? We built our own AI-based, we call it nowcasting. It’s weather forecasting for right in front of the drones. There’s one very particular weather condition that happens almost never that we can’t fly through, which is the formation of a thunderhead. It’s about one minute long updraft, and now we forecast those, so we avoid them. And so there’s little piece, that’s one of many puzzle pieces of the technology stack that make this work at scale. But really I’d say the honest answer does really comes down to the team and the culture at Zipline. This is a extraordinarily call air customer-obsessed place. And every one of our technical decisions, we measure our technical decisions of like, hey, did we make this decision in the context of what customers really care about? And if not, we gotta get out and spend more time with customers, understand them more deeply, so we can make the right decisions. And that’s helped us move really fast, that’s helped us create the right product. I can say that with confidence. I recently looked back at our original product spec draft from the early days and like how wrong that was once we went through that journey of really deeply understanding our customers and working with them. And this was true of our first platform, right? The platform we operate at scale today, which is a fixed-wing platform that goes right from a metro area and serves the overall countryside. The details of its range and payload and things like that, it’s really easy to get those wrong and have your economics be upside down, right? It’s true of this new platform that we’re launching soon, which is focused on serving in metro areas, same thing, work deeply with customers from the very beginning to get analyzing their data and really testing with those customers to make sure all of our assumptions about what mattered and how it would integrate and all those practicalities that can bite you if you get the wrong assumption, get those assumptions right, basically. I think that’s an honest answer to Zipline is we’re very good at that. We’re very good at that and how to bring that into a complex technology development. So I think it’s easy to do this wrong, right? It’s easy to kind of, complex technology, you have to make the right decisions at the right time, otherwise you never ship. And so it’s very easy to kind of get jerked around by your customers and get lost in the wind and never ship. And I agree do both of those things really well.
Jeff – 00:12:13: Nice, there’s so many like POCs and robotics in the drone space where they’re testing things, but to be running a business where you’re actually, flying hundreds of drones every day and getting stuff done, that’s significant and awesome. You’d mentioned there’s different types of drones and I understand you have the kind of two different drone delivery products. Can you tell us more about that?
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:12:35: Absolutely, so long range platform, that’s what we’ve been operating for years now, goes from a metro, right? We typically are in the outskirts of a metro area and serves cities and towns outside that metro area. And this is a fixed wing platform. So it looks like a large RC plane. It flies out to a delivery site where it drops the package and the package is like the size of a cake box with a little paper parachute on it and that floats to the ground for delivery.
Jeff – 00:12:59: So they’re parachuting.
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:13:00: Exactly, yeah.
Jeff – 00:13:02: Micro parachutes.
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:13:03: Micro parachutes, yeah. And then that drone flies back and gets the next delivery. There is no better way to do on demand long range delivery. It is incredibly fast, it’s economical, there’s nothing that comes close to competing, any other drones, let alone any other technology. So it’s really powerful, but it takes some space to deliver and as you can imagine, we drop a package with a parachute and our customers are asking us for years of, can you deliver to more homes in, can you deliver more sites in metro areas as opposed to outside of metro areas? And that’s really where platform two came from, was saying to do that, you have to be really precise. A lot of, you gotta be able to deliver to a small porch or to a communal area, apartment building, or various tight spaces if you wanna deliver to everyone in a metro. And we also, our platform one system, this long range system, it’s nearly silent. You don’t know here at delivering, and over time as we’ve done this and we’ve watched other people sort of pilot drone delivery, it’s become really clear that having a drone delivery system no one notices is just, that’s the future we wanna live in. And one of the big challenges for platform two was could we actually get that precision? Is there a way to deliver precisely without making any noise? And that’s where platform two was born from. Platform two, when it comes to make a delivery, it hovers way up high, about as high up as a football field as long. And then it lowers this little sort of baby drone or we call it a droid down to the ground by a string. That droid can navigate if there’s any winds, it’ll keep tracking real precisely, put that package down even on a little table, whatever you have available, and then tracked all in a matter of seconds. And quietly. And so that’s what platform two is. So that really enables us to deliver to the vast, vast majority of addresses.
Jeff– 00:14:41: Mentioned in a couple states, tell me about some of the things you’re doing in the U.S.
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:14:45: In the US we have healthcare applications, very similar to what we do around the world, as well as consumer goods deliveries. And yeah, it’s going great. It’s platform one, right? This with this parachute package and a little package with the parachute on it was developed for delivering to hospitals and clinics originally. I was skeptical of like, you know, if we start using that for home delivery, people love it and wildly exceeded my expectations for just how accepted it is and how quickly people in their homes adopt it and then find it boring like two days later and then just order every single day with it. You’re kind of like, wow, okay, this is great. It’s going incredibly well. You know, operations in the US are still relatively limited as we through a few more regulatory steps, but scale in the US is coming.
Jeff – 00:15:25: Is there a designated location for the residential delivery? Is it like, hey, a drop here? Or is there like, hey, there’s a specific post that you’re dropping something in, like an air mailbox or something like that?
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:15:37: Yeah, so we do call it a mailbox. It’s just a spot in your backyard.
Jeff – 00:15:41: Interesting. Great. Thanks so much for kind of the backdrop of Zipline. Sounds like such an exciting company that you started and are leading and it seems like you guys are just at the very beginning at the same time, which is why we’re here to really talk about the future. Before we kind of get fully into the future, tell us a bit more about the present. You’ve told us more about Zipline. What about the current state of the industry? Is there a lot of investment coming in this area? Like, is there a lot of competitors? What does the industry look like?
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:16:08: It obviously sort of depends sort of what you’re looking at. And I think for us, you know, we’re really excited that we, most on-demand deliveries today are, you know, someone to hop in their car, 3000 pound vehicle, driving, you know, bag of something to somebody. And it’s just crazy. The economics are awful. It’s usually late. It’s very unpredictable. And of course the environmental impact is just kind of a silly, right? So we joke at Zipline, it’s like, you know, if aliens come and visit and they look at what we’re doing, they’re going to be like, you do what? How? That seems crazy to us, you know? And so we’re just really excited to displace that, right? That we just make it just so much better for environmental impact, but and just that customer experience of actually being on time and really predictable and so much faster. You know, so we think a lot about that, that broader on-demand world, because that’s really what we compete with. You know, there’s, there are, there are other startups working with drone delivery. Sure. But it’s just not on the radar, right? Our focus is really, we have a massive backlog of customers and customers we’re scaling with today and goal is to really create the best experience for them and scale into their needs. You know, as practically as we fast as we practically can.
Jeff – 00:17:10: What about, as this scales, have you guys thought about the conflicts of drones and hitting drones or navigating the skies silently? But have you guys done a lot of thinking through that?
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:17:23: Yeah, absolutely. In terms of integrating with other aircraft in the sky, passenger aircraft, this has been something that we’ve been working on for years at Zipline. We just shipped our solution to what we think was the holy grail problem in integrating drones in the airspace, which is a solution where you have sensors on board our drone that can sense other aircraft and maintain separation from those aircraft. And this is something that a lot of companies have tried with, they try with cameras and you just can’t get the range. You really need to see out thousands of feet in order to maintain separation with those aircrafts. There’s all kinds of other problems with cameras and radar that really were dead ends. We explored these things too. And the system that we shipped is actually an acoustic system. So it’s literally a system with a microphone array on the aircraft that is listening to and listening for where aircraft are to maintain separation of those aircraft. And this is really exciting. It was one of those things that cut intended. It sounds really cool. It was quite difficult to solve some of the long tail challenges there. Once we got through them. Yeah, it’s just an incredibly great solution. So you need to sense all around you. Think of it as drones don’t have a right of way. In sailing or flying a little two seater aircraft, you have right of way. If someone’s coming up behind you, it’s their job not to hit you. But drones don’t have that right of way. So we need to sense all around us and get out of the way. Basically, which means you got to sense really far in 360 degree sphere. That’s where microphones are basically, as far as I’m concerned, like the only, let alone the best solution to doing that. So I’m incredibly excited to have that in production now.
Jeff – 00:18:50: That’s amazing. That seems really game changing. Are there any other recent developments that you’re really excited about as you think about the industry and kind of the opportunity?
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:18:59: I’ll be honest, what I’m most excited about is less the technology and more just like now we’ve shown that it works at scale and that it’s boring for people and they count on it every day. Like that’s exciting to me. I’m one of those people where I had a stick phone a few years after my friends had smartphones because I like things that just fricking work. And I think drone delivery has gone from like five years ago, it was like, is this something that people want to the people really want it to now we know how to scale it and people can count on it all day, day and night in the weather. And yeah, and now it’s a question of like, okay, how do we bring this to everybody who could possibly benefit from it?
Jeff– 00:19:33: As you work towards that scale, what are some of the things in your roadmap now that are important to the next 10x growth? Because it sounds like the market is there. The market is ready for that.
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:19:44: There’s a really cool example of a technology that’s coming around really nicely. It’s applying around this platform to delivery experience. So platform two has the zip or the drone. We call it the zip. It stays way up high, lowers a little droid down and the droid has some fans on it and its own perception system that lowers down to the ground. And that droid can be really precise, like a couple of inches precise. But as you can imagine, like, you know, a pin on a phone, right? The way you call an Uber, right? Put a pin down on a map is nowhere near a couple of inches of precise, right? So if you’re in an urban area and you want this delivered to your back porch, pin on a map isn’t going to isn’t it precise enough for us to find that back porch. And so there’s a really exciting AI based perception stack that we’ve been developing for that droid to be able to find that perfectly delivery site every time, which is just starting to work really well as we get closer to launching this product, which I am very excited about.
Jeff – 00:20:35: Very cool. What about weight restrictions? What sort of parameters can you work with from a weight perspective?
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:20:42: Our platform, it depends on range and things, but basically think about eight to 10 pounds as what we can deliver.
Jeff – 00:20:49: A lot of the stuff you get delivered at home.
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:20:52: Oh yeah, oh the vast majority, right? Amazon gave a statistic a few years back that like 85% of their packages were five pounds or less. And so what’s really exciting is that we did a big analysis on this with our customers, but what people get on demand, what people need in a hurry, it’s rarely a refrigerator. It’s more often not. It’s a little thing.
Jeff – 00:21:11: Medicine and the little things that we order every day. One time I was talking to my wife, Kari, and I was like, you know, let’s try pausing the Amazon deliveries just because we’re ordering so much stuff. And I was like, let’s just try pausing. And so we stopped. And but then the packages kept coming like for the next three or four days because we’d ordered stuff prior to that. So we didn’t see it for a little while and it didn’t last very long. But we got used to this way of ordering things and recently, obviously with how we get food and so it’s really, this seems like a game changing the future. You know, Gartner predicted that by 2026, we’d have more than 1 million drones carrying out retail deliveries. I’m curious from your perspective, do you think that’s an accurate prediction?
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:21:55: Yeah, that’s the ballpark of the scale we’re working towards right now. It’s really exciting. It basically, but it also puts a big onus on this, right? Like, you know, when we all picture those kinds of numbers, right, like we don’t want to notice that many drones, right? And this is the challenge of creating delivery experience that works for everybody, that’s quiet enough that you don’t notice it. I mentioned quiet, cause like, we’re just so used to, you know, drones sounding like these kind of insects, worms and stuff. And there’s a reason that most, that drones sound that way. It takes a lot of intentionality and sort of invention to get a drone system to not sound like that. And that’s just one of many challenges to creating that future. But yeah, we’re really excited about that scale because the demand is absolutely there. I think today, just today, right, billions of deliveries in the US are done on demand with people jumping in their cars. It’s time to do it in a much better way.
Jeff – 00:22:43 For Zipline, we noticed the goal of by 2025, the intent to operate more flights annually than almost all major US airlines. Are you guys on pace for that?
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:22:53: Yeah, absolutely. The countries that we’re operating at national scale and today, we do that already. We fly more every day in terms of flights than all the other flights, let alone one airline, all the other flights in those countries combined. This is part of the fun I have at Zipline is how do you build the autonomy systems and things that really enable that scale and the scale that’s coming. And having crossed that milestone you mentioned in other countries, we’re really excited to get there here in the US as well.
Jeff – 00:23:17: So as we look to the future, you can pick 10 or 20 years from now, but what do you see that looking like? Describe that story or narrative for us.
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:23:26: And I like to think of it as imagine that your local pharmacy, your favorite restaurant, anything around you that you need has this magical portal in the wall. By the way, our system literally looks like a portal. There’s a little door and it outslides the droid into the building of the pharmacy. So they don’t even have to go outside. They load up their order and then it goes out the magic portal and a few minutes later it’s delivered to your back porch. And having everything at your fingertips, right? I’ve got two little kids and last night I ordered dinner because I didn’t have time to cook. And of course it came 45 minutes late. It was cold. The kids were overtired and the evening was rough. And you know, that food being hot and on time, I can’t wait, right? And need that pharmacy delivery, not having to go get that farfetched. Another story for me a few weeks ago, and I definitely thought I had enough children’s tile and all and I was two in the morning and there was none left. I’m like drawing straws with my wife of who’s going to go to the 24 hour pharmacy and get some to break the fever with our little one. So having that magic portal and everything we count on and making available, there’s this great bakery that I’ve gotten to know. I can’t wait for them to have, you know, be able to send me bread in the morning, you know, right this way and just that access. And that’s on the personal side. On the professional side, this is the health, it was where we started on the professional side of just, you know, if your job requires physical things. So doctors, obviously, you know, mechanics, construction, you know, I often use the construction example because we’ve all done our own version of construction projects at home. And it’s like the number of times you got to run to the hardware store for that one thing you forgot, that little thing you forgot. The productivity win from having that stuff just come to you instantly is huge, is huge and excited to bring that to all industries.
Jeff – 00:25:05: Amazing. Tell us more about, we’ve been talking a lot about AI, lots happened this year with the generative AI movement. So it’s just on everyone’s minds. How do you see AI shaping the future of drones? I know you guys are using it now, probably done a lot.
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:25:21: Yeah, absolutely. So we talked about that acoustic detect and avoid system for detecting and avoiding other aircraft. That microphone system uses AI. We talked about the precision delivery with platform two using AI with the perception system to find that perfect spot for you delivery. There’s a lot of really exciting unstructured problems like that in this space where it’s the right solution. It really speeds up the solution to really hard technical problems of certain classes and it’s been really, I think, you know, Zipline is a well-timed company in a lot of ways and being able to leverage AI is one of those.
Jeff – 00:25:53: There was a stat about 88% fewer deaths from postpartum hemorrhaging in the hospitals that Zipline serves. That seems pretty incredible. The biggest opportunities for drone delivery to save lives, improve lives, any other thoughts there. I know that’s where you started, so I’m assuming.
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:26:15: Well, even just to talk about health for a second, because there’s this existential crisis that every country is facing right now, which is how do you increase the quality of healthcare while decreasing the cost, right? There’s lots of new drugs and things that come out for certain diseases that increase quality of healthcare for those diseases, but increase cost. As a proud citizen of this country, United States, not so proud to say we spend more in dollars and in percentage of our GDP on healthcare than any other country in the world. And we can barely afford that, and so many other countries around the world just can’t afford to scale their healthcare. And what’s really exciting about on-demand delivery is in the healthcare space, not just for these acute situations like, hey, patient needs blood right now, but it turns out if you wanna increase quality of healthcare and reduce costs across the entire patient population, the way to do that is through preventative care. And the way to increase preventative care adherence is to make it more practical for more people closer to their home. This is why we do delivery of certain drugs right to people’s house, right? If you’re a hypertension patient. You can have a long, healthy life if you stay on your medications. And you go off for a few weeks, you can end up in the hospital. And for a lot of patients, just making sure that they get those drugs when they need them so they can stay on them. Huge impact for them and for the healthcare system at large. So anyway, incredibly excited about that broad base, if you will. And this is stuff I did not understand. We got into Zipline at all of just how the dynamics of healthcare work. There’s another great example here in the US so we have a bunch of contracts with us health system partners, like Intermountain Health in Utah, coming later in Michigan medicine and Michigan and a bunch of others. And one of the common use cases there is these health systems are scaling up their home healthcare programs. These are traveling practitioners who come to people’s homes. Again, for certain patients, like if you’re elderly or not driving or a disability, that kind of thing, it’s better to treat you at home before waiting until you end up in a hospital and things like that, both quality of healthcare and for the cost of healthcare. And so what we’re doing is literally delivering supplies to those practitioners while they’re in the home. Cause they estimate that half the time they walk into the home, they see a need they didn’t anticipate when they went there. And again, that just like increases what they can do, the power of these healthcare providers. So yeah, I could talk all day about healthcare cause it’s so exciting all these impacts that this kind of technology has. And one metaphor that extrapolates from healthcare into other industries is getting people what they need for a job they already know how to do is really easy, right? It’s not like you’re retraining someone on how to be an auto mechanic. It’s like to just get them the part they need. They already know what to do. And so in some ways it’s like broad base empowering and really easy to adopt. That’s a powerful economic factor.
Jeff– 00:28:49: What about vertical takeoff and landing vehicles, which you call like big drones, some of the technology describing the AI around the acoustics to kind of recognize, you know, other things in the air, you know, all the innovation we’ve seen there. Do you have any perspectives on that feature since it’s so related, you know, like the idea of having taxis in the air and moving people around?
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:29:08: I think this is going to be a big part of Zipline’s future. Not anytime too soon, because we’re very focused on unlocking our ability to scale, but there’s no question that Zipline is going to be the first company to get to a billion autonomous flight hours. The data and experience that you get from that, as well as all that time to mature those systems and make them rock solid, we’re building the best autonomy platform for the future of flight. I’m excited down the road to find a way to bring that to things like flying cars.
Jeff – 00:29:37 Amazing. I didn’t realize you guys had that in your roadmap, but that’s exciting to hear. I think the analogy is obviously Tesla, and electric vehicles and everything that people don’t see behind the scenes from a data and logistics and AI perspective that’s gonna continue to help them be successful. It makes it hard to kind of catch up. There’s safety measures, ZipLine also takes that are impressive. Do you think, is that something that given your industry leadership, do you think that how do we scale that so it goes beyond just a company as we think about the good that this can have? How are you guys thinking about the industry and the interconnectedness that you might have with others that are in the air?
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:30:18: That’s a great question. So in terms of sharing the airspace, there’s a lot of projects we have going on with regulators around the world, including here, as well as a bunch of other new industry participants in this autonomous flight space that we’re working very actively with to design the future of the airspace and to scale safely. That’s a really big deal. Safety in general is a big part of what we do. We just hit 55 million autonomous miles flown, no material safety incidents at all, which is, it’s born of a lot of hard work. And yeah, I was meeting with this drone company, a little startup a few months ago now, and they were asking for advice on this question, and they were walking me through what they were doing. And, you know, it was a bit heartbreaking to kind of be like, Hey, look, let me show you what it took for us to develop one of our safety features. So one safety feature of many, we have redundancy in the aircraft and all kinds of safety in our operations and elsewhere, but one key safety feature we have is a whole aircraft parachute. So it’s a parachute for a whole plane, a whole drone that like, if we get caught in that really exceptional storm, we can’t handle or too many things go wrong. We’ll still come down gently. The amount of engineering we put into that parachute system and the amount of budget, time, testing, supply chain, maturation, all that stuff to make sure that parachute will always deploy was more than they had spent on all of their development. They thought they were ready to fly over people. And I think this is something I can relate to. When I first started Zipline, I did not have a full appreciation for what it takes to get to that level of safety and reliability and maturity and something. By the way, I share this with others because I hate to see other people go through learning some things the hard way. But we like to teach where we can so others can get to safety faster because we just believe the whole industry has to be safe for even Zipline to be successful. And then yeah, there’s so many projects we’re doing around how do we all safely share the airspace with other autonomous operators, but also existing operators that are so critical like our acoustic tech and avoid system.
Jeff – 00:32:15: That’s a great example. Other companies might impact a whole country’s perception of what you’re doing. So leading the way and showing the way from a safety perspective seems imperative to kind of getting the scale that we are all excited about. Do you see this parachute concept transferring over to the kind of vertical takeoff landing kind of mobility? Because it seems like if I was up in one of these things, I’d want to parachute if things weren’t going well or I hit that air channel that you talked about.
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:32:46: Yeah, I think it’s really about layers of safety. Safety comes from layers of safety systems. And you have to have many layers. And this is sort of, if you want to achieve very high levels of safety, you need many layers. And the parachute is definitely the right solution for us. And there’s some general aviation aircraft, two-seaters that have whole airframe parachutes now, which have saved many lives. And so we’re starting to see this happen more and more. And I think basically the answer is, if a flying car is not gonna have a parachute, it better have a lot of other layers of safety to deal with the unknowns. I think this is the challenge of scaling something to massive scale is engineers in a room aren’t gonna think of all the things. So you need layers of sort of catch-all safety that will catch things that weren’t explicitly thought of in order to have your overall safety be where you want it to be. And so I agree with you. If first flying car I’m ever gonna get into, I’m gonna be looking for that parachute.
Jeff – 00:33:37: As we think about the future of drone delivery, if we look back at technology, we’ve had a lot of technology that’s really changed our lives, our world, and sometimes we don’t realize it because humans just don’t adapt as fast. I think if we could go back in time, we could say, how do we design this with more intent and think about the good and the bad? Here we are at the forefront of the future of drone delivery. It sounds like you’ve actually put a lot of intent and a lot of time into having an intentional future and that’s one of the reasons you guys are the world’s leader. Any other thoughts as you think about designing with intent now, given where this is going, given maybe there’s unintended consequences? Any other principles or thoughts about the future as we try to get this right? Because what we’ve seen with technology is it can go both ways.
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:34:25: There’s two things that I live by. Well, a lot of people doing complex technology like this. Use the complexity of the technology as an excuse not to be obsessed with their customers in real product development sense. And so they kind of develop their technology and then later they’re like, oh, I’ll dial a few things in to make it a great product. And it’s like that I fundamentally believe you got to be obsessed with customers from the very beginning, understand them deeply, spend real time with them. Right. This isn’t a survey or something like that. This is like lots of time in the field, trying to live what they live as much as you possibly can in order to just make sure that your intuition is really based on their reality. So, so important. And so that’s the first thing I live by that. I think if you do that, a lot of what looks, you know, suppressing it from zip line came from that. Right. And the other is just make sure you’re building a world you want to live in, right? Like design for that future you actually want. And when I first, you know, spent time with drones and heard these swarming buzzes and I was like, Hey, is there a way to get rid of this? You know, we spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to do that. Cause that was the world we wanted to live in. And so there’s sometimes you can get ahead of your skis there and sort of overdesign cause you kind of, you’re trying to do too much. Uh, if you’re willing to challenge your assumptions and especially bring other people into your design process to kind of watch their reactions and things to figure out what really matters. You can get a really long way. And I still remember from our platform one days, very early days of like, Hey, okay, we’re going to fix wing is the only way to achieve the cost and range our customers wanted. That means we’ve got to drop a package. And so I remember the first prototypes that went down at that time in central America, we’re hooking them over the fence to hospitals. And the first, I remember looking at the doctor’s faces and it was obvious from their expression of like, that’s not going to work. And if we have, and then redesign, redesign, redesign, eventually with the came, ended up going with this little parachute. And when they saw that, they’re like, yeah, sweet. That works. And I think there’s something about that very basic user centered design, even in complex technology systems, it just gets you so far.
Jeff – 00:36:16: Awesome. And then thanks for that reminder. And for all of us who are in the tech space and that are trying to build the future. Anything else as we contemplate the future of drone delivery that you’re really excited about that you want to share with the audience?
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:36:28: We were recently casting up with this family in Arkansas that we serve and just hearing them literally saying things that sounded crazy to me. Things like, oh, I don’t think I could move anywhere else until Zipline expands because I count on this every day. And you’re like, what? They’re saying this is a straight face. And it’s just, there’s something that when you really struck a nerve with somebody, there’s something so powerful about that. And I’m just so excited for that to reach everybody and really transform all of our worlds in such a great way.
Jeff– 00:36:58: As you look for inspiration, you’re obviously an inspirational leader yourself, a technology innovator that is working on the future that can change the world. Who else do you look for insights or where do you find your inspiration?
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:37:11: Oh, great question. I mean, you know, on the mentorship side, I’ve had so many mentors. I mean, I can’t literally too many to count and there’s no way I would be here if not for those mentors and there’s no way Zipline would be here. There’s so many, there’s so many less challenges and getting a startup to go and scale and stuff that the, if you’re not learning as fast as you can from other people and their mistakes, I don’t know how you’d get anywhere. So, you know, I’m incredibly appreciative to all of those folks, you know, from great teachers I’ve had all the way back to high school and before, uh, to just great mentors along this journey back in the ROS days and, you know, in trying to figure out what I was going to do next days and then, and now it’s Zipline. Uh, but I’ll be honest, when I really think about inspiration, it’s really customers, right? Spending time with customers who are just like, when they light up, when you can feel how excited they are for you to solve a problem they have. That’s really what gets me going and helps push through the hard parts of building a company. So unfortunately, I’m not few and far between. What really makes that fun is that, you know, you’re solving a problem that someone else, you know, some real human you’ve gotten to meet is just over the moon excited about.
Jeff – 00:38:11: That makes all that hard work or those late nights worthwhile. But that leads me to my last question. As someone who’s leading a significant company in this space, the biggest, the hours of the day, I’m sure you’d like to clone yourself, as would I. But it’s hard to keep up, especially when you mentioned a couple of kids. I heard the dog in the background. We have lives, too. So how do you balance? What’s your recipe for thinking through balance with all those other obligations that are important to our lives?
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:38:41: There’s two ingredients. For me, it starts with sacred protections of the stuff that matters to me on the personal side. So helping put the kids to bed four nights a week is just something I do. I don’t think about it. I don’t ask, should I do it this week? It’s important. It’s just unbreakable rule, and I just do it. It also takes some of the stress off, because people around me at Zipline know this, too. And being transparent about these kind of boundaries just helps a lot, because we all value. I’m not the only person who does this. Zipline, everybody does, and we encourage this. That’s a big one. And the other piece is just you can just spend all your time hiring the world’s best people, because at the end of the day, not sleeping a little bit does not scale to company scale problems. Amazing teams do. Teams of amazing people do. And yeah, that’s still where all my time goes. The majority of my time goes. And it’s just amazing when you put in that time, and you see someone amazing join the team, and they just take on some thing that was keeping you up at night, and all of a sudden you don’t have to worry about it anymore, and it goes on better than you could have expected. You could have done it yourself. That’s the other key ingredient. And then protect the personal things that matter the most in a sacred way. Yeah, is it perfect? No, but I’m happy.
Jeff – 00:39:53: Keenan, it’s been amazing chatting with you and really excited about what you’re doing with Zipline and your story and the future. Looking forward to watching what you accomplish and being part of it as well. So thanks for being on the show.
Keenan Wyrobek – 00:40:06: Absolutely, it’s great to talk to you as well, Japh, it was a really wonderful conversation.
Jeff – 00:40:10: Really appreciated your insights, thanks again. The Future Of Podcasts is brought to you by Fresh Consulting. To find out more about how we pair design and technology together to shape the future, visit us at freshconsulting.com. Make sure to search for the future of an Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or anywhere else podcasts are found. Make sure to click subscribe so you don’t miss any of our future episodes. And on behalf of our team here at Fresh, thank you for listening.