Cross-posted from WeRobotics
The Amazon is home to thousands of local indigenous communities spread across very remote areas. As a result, these sparsely populated communities rarely have reliable access to essential medicines and public health services. Local doctors in the region report an average of 45 snakebites per month and no rapid access to anti-venom meds, for example. We recently traveled to the rainforest to learn more about these challenges and to explore whether cargo drones (UAVs) could realistically be used to overcome some of these challenges in a sustainable manner. We’re excited to share that our cargo drone flights in the Amazon rainforest were a big success!
This unique and successful pilot project was a big team effort including our Peru Flying Labs Coordinator Juan Bergelund, UAV del Peru and the Peruvian Ministry of Health along with some of Peru’s leading public health experts. We carried out both day and night autonomous flights between local health hub Contamana and the remote village of Pampa Hermosa around 40 kilometers away. The drones delivered life-saving anti-venom medicines as well as blood samples. The flights took around 35 minutes compared to traditional riverboat transportation, which can take up to 6 hours.
We have already been asked by multiple local authorities in the region to carry out additional flights in coming months. These flights will test the aerial delivery of medical supplies across 100+ kilometers. A detailed review of our recent flight tests will be released in early January along with high definition pictures and videos. Our Peru Flying Labs will also be working on this Zika reduction project in Peru using cargo drones. For media enquiries, please contact Dr. Patrick Meier (patrick@werobotics) and Juan Bergelund (juan@werobotics). Ministry of Health officials and other partners are also available for interviews.
In the meantime, we wish to sincerely thank all our outstanding partners and colleagues in Peru for their invaluable support and partnership over the past two weeks. We are very excited to continue our good work together in coming months and years.
The mission of WeRobotics is to scale the positive impact of social good projects through the use of appropriate robotics solutions. We do this by creating robotics labs (Flying Labs) that transfer professional skills and robotics solutions locally. We have Flying Labs in Asia (Nepal), Africa (Tanzania) and South America (Peru). WeRobotics is funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, which enabled the recent project in the Amazon rainforest with our Peru Flying Labs.
In August 2015, the Swiss humanitarian organization FSD kindly hired me as a consultant to work on the EU-funded Drones in Humanitarian Action program. I had the pleasure of working closely with FSD and team during the past 16 months. Today represents the exciting culmination of a lot of hard work by many dedicated individuals.
Today we’re launching our comprehensive report on “Drones in Humanitarian Action: A Guide to the Use of Airborne Systems in Humanitarian Crises.” The full report is available here (PDF). Our study draws on extensive research and many, many consultations carried out over a year and a half. The report covers the principle actors & technologies along with key applications and case studies on both mapping and cargo drones. Note that the section on cargo delivery is drawn from a larger 20+ page study I carried out. Please contact me directly if you’d like a copy of this more detailed study. In the meantime, I want to sincerely thank my fellow co-authors Denise Soesilo, Audrey Lessard-Fontaine, Jessica Du Plessis & Christina Stuhlberger for this productive and meaningful collaboration.
The report and case studies are also available on the FSD Website.
I had the opportunity to visit Zipline’s field-testing site in San Francisco last year after the company participated in an Experts Meeting on Humanitarian UAVs (Aerial Robotics) that I co-organized at MIT. The company has finally just gone public about their good work in Rwanda, so I’m at last able to blog about it on iRevolutions. When I write “finally”, this is not meant to be a complaint; in fact, one aspect that really drew me to Zipline in the first place is the team’s genuine down-to-earth, no-hype mantra. So, I use the word finally since I now finally have public evidence to backup many conversations I’ve had with humanitarian partners on the topic of cargo delivery via aerial robotics.
As I had signed an NDA, I was (and still am) only allowed to discuss information that is public, which was basically nothing until today. So below is a summary of what is at last publicly known about Zipline’s pioneering aerial robotics efforts in Rwanda. I’ve also added videos at the end.
- Zipline’s Mission: to deliver critical medical products to health centers and hospitals that are either difficult or impossible to reach via traditional modes of transportation
- Zipline Fleet: 15 aerial robotics platforms (UAVs) in Rwanda.
- Aerial Robotics platform: Fixed-wing.
- Weight of each platform: 10-kg.
- Power: Battery-operated twin-electric motors.
- Payload capacity: up to 1.5kg.
- Cargo: Blood and essential medicines (small vials) to begin with. Eventually cargo will extend to lifesaving vaccines, treatments for HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, etc.
- Flight Plans: Pre-programmed and monitored on the ground via tablets. Individual plans are stored on SIM cards.
- Flight Navigation: GPS using the country’s cellular network.
- Launch Mechanism: Via catapult.
- Maximum Speed: Around 100 km/hour.
- Landings: Zipline’s aerial robot does not require a runway.
- Delivery Mechanism: Fully autonomous, low altitude drop via simple paper parachute. Onboard computers determine appropriate parameters (taking into account winds, etc) to ensure that the cargo accurately lands on it’s dedicated delivery site called a “mailbox”.
- Delivery Sites: Dedicated drop sites at 21 health facilities that can carry out blood transfusions. These cover more than half of Rwanda.
- Takeoff Sites: Modified shipping containers located next to existing medical warehouses.
- Delivery Time: Each cargo is delivered within 1 hour. The aerial robot takes about 1/2 hour reach a delivery site.
- Flight Frequency: Eventually up to 150 flights per day.
- Weather: Fixed-wings can operate in ~50km/hour winds.
- Regulatory Approval: Direct agreements already secured with the Government of Rwanda and country’s Civil Aviation Authority.