Madagascar Flying Labs Just Flew the Longest-Range Drone Deliveries in Africa

Madagascar Flying Labs, hosted and coordinated by AerialMetric, just completed their longest-range flights to date. These were part of this joint project with the African Regional Office (AFRO) of the World Health Organization (WHO). These long-range flights aimed to study the impact of long flight times on the aerial cold chain. Maintaining the cold chain means keeping patient samples and medicines within a specific temperature range, e.g., between 0°C and 8°C. This is absolutely essential because some samples and medicines (such as vaccines) are ruined if they exceed certain temperatures over a given period of time. We had previously demonstrated that the cold chain was fully maintained for 20+ shorter-range flights (under 30km in range) in March 2021. AFRO wanted to know whether the cold chain could also be maintained for much longer-range deliveries. They wanted this to be operationally proven with multiple 150km test flights rather than simulated.

AerialMetric thus carried out four long-range flights with the following range targets: 150km, 175km, 200km, and 225km. We’re pleased to report that all flights were carried out successfully across Northern Madagascar (and you can watch the first hour of the 225km flight here). The cargo included two capsules weighing a total of 2kg. We estimate this to be the equivalent of 300 biological samples in terms of weight. The cold chain was maintained throughout all four long-range flights. The temperature data below, for example, is from the 200km flight, which clocked a flight time of 2 hours and 12 minutes (132 minutes). As shown below, the temperature inside the cargo box was kept between 0°C and 2°C throughout the flight. The 225km flight clocked a flight time of 2 hours and 30 minutes. During the flight, the temperature of the cargo box was kept between 0.6°C and 8.6°C.

Madagascar Flying Labs drone
These long-range flights aimed to study the impact of long flight times on the aerial cold chain.

We believe the 225km flight may be the longest autonomous flight of an e-VTOL cargo drone in Africa to date. We’re very much looking forward to seeing AerialMetric’s longer-range deliveries directly benefit the 1.4 million individuals living in Northern Madagascar. We also hope to have the opportunity of working with AerialMetric and other Flying Labs in Africa and beyond in the coming months and years.

Together with Flying Labs, we’ve delivered medicines and blood samples in the Amazon Rainforest with BD; Delivered essential medicines to remote clinics in the Dominican Republic with Pfizer; Collected TB samples from remote clinics in Nepal with BNMT; Ran cargo drone training & demos with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Papua New Guinea. We’re also working with the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Africa (AFRO) to catalyze WHO’s use of drone delivery networks. Simultaneously, we’re working with Pfizer to enable greater access to affordable cargo drone solutions by engineering a dedicated cargo drone upgrade. We were also contracted to work on the foundational phases of a vaccine drone delivery in the DRC. Furthermore, we’ve worked on non-traditional cargo drone projects with partners in Brazil to reduce Zika, Fiji to reduce Dengue, and Tanzania to reduce malaria. We focused explicitly on strengthening long-term local expertise and capacity in drone delivery with each of the efforts described here. We fully transferred appropriate drone technology to local experts across Flying Labs. We also offer a comprehensive, fully peer-reviewed professional online course on the use of cargo drones for medical delivery. Participants who complete this unique course receive a certificate signed by Direct Relief, MIT, the University of Pennsylvania, and WeRobotics. Lastly, we offer this affordable, locally repairable cargo drone for short-range (10km) deliveries. This is the same drone used by DR Flying Labs, Nepal Flying Labs, and soon by Philippines Flying Labs.

This article was originally published by WeRobotics.


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