Drones’ New Mission: Saving Lives in Developing Countries
Monday, January 12, 2015
The prospect of drones delivering parcels to your doorstep is still some way off. But the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for humanitarian work in developing countries is already happening.
When medical nonprofit Médecins Sans Frontières, or Doctors Without Borders, set up a tuberculosis diagnosis station in Papua New Guinea in May, one of its first calls was to Silicon Valley-based UAV firm Matternet.
“They called, and said it was impossible to do this [mission] in a traditional way, because the roads are very bad, where they exist, and in the rainy season it is completely blocked,” recounts Matternet CEO Andreas Raptopoulos. “They estimated that as many as 10,000 patients needed to be diagnosed, the majority living rurally.”
Matternet, which had previously run trial projects with Doctors Without Borders in Haiti and the World Health Organisation in Bhutan, deployed UAVs with a range of up to 28km (17 miles) to carry diagnostic samples of circa 1kg (2lbs) from rural villages to a central lab. Flying autonomously, each follows GPS co-ordinates typed in using a mobile phone app. “Even if you only use one or two UAVs a day, you can pick up 10 samples from 10 different points,” explains Raptopoulos. “When you go by land, it is really hard just to get from A to B.”
Matternet isn’t the only private enterprise making drones for development.