#DroneDelivery - The future of delivery

#DroneDelivery - The future of delivery

Drone technology will prove to be a boon for the continent that faces a major challenge of poor transport infrastructure. Rwanda and Kenya are one of the first few African countries to see drones fly in its skies.

Twinkle Sahita

Each year, there are 450,000 deaths due to Malaria in Africa, 25 percent of which are attributed to a lack of blood available for treatment. 100,000 also die each year from Sickle Cell Disease, the treatment for which requires regular and safe blood transfusion. In an attempt to make the transportation of goods and medical supplies faster in a continent bigger than the Americas and China, Africa takes a huge leap in logistics sector with drone delivery. Drone technology has the potential to help logistics operators overcome transport infrastructure challenges, suggests Knight Frank’s recent report on emerging logistics property sector.

There are regions in Africa which are land-locked and some which lack the connectivity due to the distances. E-commerce has a lot of challenges due to the shortage of post-boxes hence the delivery of products can be a challenge. The use of drones in Africa will revolutionise the logistics sector, due to the low-cost and versatility of drones to reach remote and in-accessible regions which will result in new options which were previously not available. Several projects are underway exploring the use of drones in Africa. Amongst the major developing countries in Africa, Rwanda is the testbed for commercial drone deliveries.

In May this year, UPS entered into a partnership with Zipline, a medical drone delivery startup, to begin aerial transport of healthcare supplies in Rwanda. Included in the deal is Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, a Gates Foundation supported non-profit specialising in immunisations. They started the application of drones recently in Rwanda for delivering vital medical supplies, starting with blood.

According to recent news reports, a fleet of 15 drones will soon be buzzing around the vast country, bypassing the sub-standard road network, and making life-saving interventions.

To ensure safe landing of drones in a densely packed area, Rwanda has outlined plan for the Droneport. Lord Foster has launched proposals for the Droneport project in Africa to support cargo drone routes capable of delivering urgent and precious supplies to remote areas on a massive scale. The project is a collaboration between Redline partners led by Afrotech, École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL); the Norman Foster Foundation; and Foster + Partners. The initial plan for three buildings, to be completed by 2020, will enable the network to send supplies to 44 percent of Rwanda. Subsequent phases of the project could see in excess of 40 Droneports across Rwanda, and the country’s central location could allow easier expansion to neighbouring countries such as Congo, saving many thousands more lives.

Talking about the project, Lord Foster, chairman and founder of Foster + Partners, says, “Africa is a continent where the gap between the population and infrastructural growth is increasing exponentially. The dearth of terrestrial infrastructure has a direct impact on the ability to deliver life-giving supplies, indeed where something as basic as blood is not always available for timely treatment. We require immediate bold, radical solutions to address this issue. The Droneport project is about doing ‘more with less’, capitalising on the recent advancements in drone technology – something that is usually associated with war and hostilities – to make an immediate life-saving impact in Africa. Rwanda’s challenging geographical and social landscape makes it an ideal test-bed for the Droneport project. This project can have massive impact through the century and save lives immediately.”

Initially, the project will deploy 3-metre wingspan drones, capable of carrying a payload of 10 kilograms. By 2025, there will be drones with a 6-metre wingspan, capable of carrying payloads of 100 kilograms.

Two parallel networks would operate services, the Redline using smaller drones for medical and emergency supplies; and the commercial Blueline that would transport crucial larger payloads such as spare parts, electronics, and e-commerce, complementing and subsidising the Redline network.

Jonathan Ledgard, founder of Redline, explained, “It is inevitable on a crowded planet, with limited resources, that we will make more intensive use of our sky using flying robots to move goods faster, cheaper, and more accurately than ever before. But it is not inevitable that these craft or their landing sites will be engineered to be tough and cheap enough to serve poorer communities who can make most use of them. Droneport is an attempt to make that happen, and to improve health and economic outcomes in Africa – and beyond.”

Following the drone trend, world’s fourth largest flower grower country, Kenya gears up to embrace drone delivery. Kenya based Astral Aviation is at an advanced stage to operate commercial drones in Kenya once the Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) regulations are approved by September 2016.

Issue of regulation is one thread that connects almost all African countries as far as the use of commercial drones is concerned. There are several regulatory issues relating to commercial drones based on Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) guidelines relating to the flight level, operational control, safety and security factors, hence the delays being experienced in drafting and approving the regulations, which are different for each country. In Kenya, there is a strong focus on security due to the high risk of terrorism hence the drones should not get into the wrong-hands.

“For the initial 3 months, Astral Aviation will conduct field tests on a variety of commercial drones in a secure environment with the objective of assessing their performance and capabilities. This will be done in conjunction with the regulatory and security authorities along with the manufacturers. During the test period the operating crew will be trained and familiarised with the new technologies. We expect the drones to be ready for operation in January 2017,” says Sanjeev Gadhia, founder & CEO, Astral Aviation.

The application of drones will not be limited to humanitarian activities but will be extended to also cover the transport of medicines into remote regions in Kenya, along with the transport of oil, gas and mining cargoes direct to the sites.

In addition, Astral will offer a trial service for urban deliveries of e commerce products and the use of drones in crop spraying for the agricultural sector.

“We will also provide a valuable service for the management of utilities such as the power sector and will offer aerial mapping for infrastructure projects in time.”

“The drone port is an important part of Astral’s strategy as it will allow it to have a safe and secure facility for the storage and maintenance of drones which will be housed in a facility which will also have a purpose built runway and warehousing. We expect the drone-port to be operational by 2017-18,” informs Gadhia.

Drones are being tested in other emerging economies. Matternet, Silicon Valley startup, has run pilots moving samples from rural clinics to a laboratory in Papua New Guinea and is launching a small medical delivery network in Dominican Republic.

The company is also working with UNICEF in Malawi for HIV early infant diagnosis since HIV is a barrier to the development and every year around 10,000 children die of HIV. This is first known use of UAVs on the continent for improvement of HIV services.

The drone deliveries will meet the demands of not just the health care sector, but it will expand its application to sectors other as well. In the coming years, logistics operators will no more face nightmares while transporting goods within its 54 countries.

Opening Image Source: Foster+Partners

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