A Dubai start-up is joining a growing band of tech firms developing delivery drones capable of transporting vital medicines to remote areas thanks to in-built temperature regulators.
Heating and cooling systems to maintain required temperature of payloads, a drone safety parachute and anti-collision sensors are features of the flying delivery bots built by Customised Drones (C-Drones).
The company entered the Dubai Programme to Enable Drone Transportation, a government initiative to explore drone use across the health, security, shipping and food industries.
C-Drones founder Mustafa Masri, said by offering customised drones the technology can be used by a variety of sectors.
“This is not new technology in the delivery industry, but what we are doing in the medical sector is unique,” he said.
“Companies need to transport medication or even human organs in critical areas where there is poor infrastructure, bad roads or mountainous regions that can be hard to access.
“What is one mile by air, can be 10 miles by ground.
“Shipments are often delivered in extreme temperatures, either hot or cold.
“These trips can take 45 minutes, so it is critical the temperature is controlled, we have seen this with the Covid vaccine, for example.”
Limited 20km range
Each drone has a range of around 20km and is capable of carrying a payload of 10kg, although this can be customised.
Health authorities in Saudi Arabia and Oman have expressed an interest in taking on the technology to deliver medical supplies and prescriptions to those without transport, Mr Masri said.
All drones are manufactured in the UAE, and can be controlled via a mobile app.
Drones have already been used to deliver vital medicines to remote areas around the world, including Malawi and the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa, Scotland and Canada.
In 2019, heath authorities in Malawi established a drone corridor to enable childhood vaccines for malaria, TB and rotavirus.
“Beehive” pharmaceutical hubs were established for health workers to load drones for delivery.
Meanwhile, in Scotland, the UK’s NHS launched a drone delivery pilot scheme in 2021 to deliver Covid-19 tests, medicines and PPE to remote communities in Argyll and Bute.
The Dubai-built drones have a 360-degree collision avoidance system, retractable landing gear and precision landing positioning — as well as the ability to heat or cool deliverable contents at required temperatures.
A major hurdle during the Covid-19 pandemic was how to maintain the cold temperatures required to deliver vaccines in remote areas.
The short shelf life of vaccines meant some nations were unable to deliver doses into hard-to-reach areas or were unable to keep them cold in transit.
According to the World Health Organisation, Yemen utilised just 42 per cent of its vaccines, Syria used 33 per cent and only 14 per cent of delivered vaccines were administered in Djibouti.
Mr Masri said his drones could provide a viable option in future pandemics to improve remote access, and bolster existing global vaccination programmes.
“We have seen a growing demand for this technology since the pandemic,” he said.
“The innovative, built-in cooling and heating system is what marks this out from others.
“So if a hospital requires a pick-up it can be ordered from the app and the drone will arrive to deliver the package.
“It is equipped with a dynamic parachute system to avoid any issues of power loss that could see it crash to the ground and cause any damage.
“Drones have a big role to play in this area of final frontier healthcare.”