Covid-19 drone delivery projects for Africa and Scotland – update

Covid-19 drone delivery projects for Africa and Scotland – update

Business news |
By Nick Flaherty

Wingcopter in Darmstadt has won up to €3m in a funding competition run by the German government for a drone assembly and delivery project to help tackle the Covid-19 outbreak in Malawi.

The company is one of nine winners of the €24m #SmartDevelopmentHack run by the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) with backing from the European Commission (through EuropeAid), GIZ, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Smart Africa, Technical University Munich, Oracle, SAP, and others. Each winning team will be awarded up to €3m to implement the project over the next 18 months.

Deliveries by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are highly dependent on the power system to provide both flexibility with vertical take off designs and an effective range for the deliveries, leaving enough power to operate a winch and return to base. After two intense days of hacking, Wingcopter with its partners UNICEF and the African Drone & Data Academy (ADDA) showed how Wingcopter drones can improve health supply chains during the Covid-19 pandemic and to open up new long-term opportunities for youth in Africa. The funds granted will be split between Wingcopter and UNICEF/ADDA.

The project will set up a locally operated delivery drone network in Malawi to support the local healthcare system, giving on-demand access to medical supplies such as Covid-19 test kits or vaccines (once available). In parallel, the partners will build local capacity through two distinct training programs for 160 Malawian young people. Wingcopter will develop a virtual educational platform and provide selected students with applicable technical equipment and pre-installed software that requires no internet connection. By learning to assemble, operate, and maintain Wingcopter drones accompanied with data analytics skills provided by ADDA, Malawians will be equipped with the tools to pursue new entrepreneurial or job opportunities, granting them new economic perspectives.

After proving the concept’s viability and successful implementation in Malawi, Wingcopter and UNICEF plan to adapt the concept and scale to Rwanda. 

“Wingcopter’s long-term strategy involves developing a sustainable education platform for youth to enable them to participate in the rapidly growing drone market, offering new job and income opportunities and ultimately improving their quality of life. By providing both theoretical and practical training on our drones, we will help young people to enter the industrial drone sector faster and better equipped. This concept is fully in line with our vision and we are happy that the award recognizes and supports this approach,” said Tom Plümmer, Co-Founder and CEO of Wingcopter.

As one of the poorest countries in the world, a widespread Covi-19 lockdown would cause a substantial loss of economic activities in Malawi, costing millions of people their livelihoods, while exposure to the virus could ultimately cost a substantial number their lives.

Wingcopter has been active in Malawi and other African countries before, significantly shortening patients’ waiting times by delivering medical commodities to hard-to-reach areas by drone. The eVTOL drones combine the advantages of multicopters (vertical take-off and landing) and fixed-wing airplanes (fast and efficient forward flight) due to its patented tilt-rotor technology. At the point of destination, the drones can lower the transported goods through a winch mechanism, requiring no landing infrastructure, before autonomously returning to the point of departure.

In Scotland, Skyports and Thales are starting a drone-based Covid-19 response trial on behalf of the NHS Scotland to provide the Isle of Mull with corona tests. This cuts the delivery times from currently up to 6 hours by car and ferry to 15 minutes.

“Drones offer the opportunity to quickly and easily take corona tests, drugs or personal protective equipment to places that are difficult to reach by conventional means of transport,” said Co-Founder and CEO Tom Plümmer. “We are delighted to be able to help in Scotland in this way and hope to soon be able to help contain the pandemic in other countries and regions as well. For example, such a drone based on-demand service can be of enormous help to holiday regions that currently do not know how to deal with the upcoming holiday season. This is because those affected receive certainty more quickly if they suspect they have been infected with COVID-19, and appropriate measures can be initiated earlier.”

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