Wingcopter, together with packaging expert Intelsius, has developed a recyclable and aerodynamic one-way delivery box to safely transport refrigerated vaccines airborne. That way, a single transport from a base station to one of the health facilities now only takes a couple of minutes.
The Wingcopter drones have flown over 3500 kilometers beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), as they delivered vaccines with an average payload of 3.5 kilograms. The payload includes four large packs of ice to cool the vaccines during and after delivery.
To be this efficient, Wingcopter has developed and patented a unique tilting rotor mechanism for their eponymous eVTOL drone. The electrically powered Wingcopter drone combines the advantages of two types of drones: It can take off and land vertically like common multicopters, requiring minimal ground area. For efficient and fast forward flight with maximum thrust, the rotors can be tilted, and the drone transforms into an unmanned fixed-wing aircraft. This enables long ranges of up to 100 km and a Guinness World Record top speed of 240 km/h. The Wingcopter drone flies autonomously and reliably even in strong winds or heavy rain.
The responses from locals and nurses range from gratitude to excitement when last minute requests for vaccine deliveries are met. Nicole, a nurse from Central Pentecost (stationed in Ledungsivi), on a late Tuesday evening asked for a vaccine to be delivered the following day, unscheduled. Usually, a request like this would have caused undue complications. The next morning, the delivery of vaccines to Nicole took as little as 7 minutes from Melsisi to the target station. A 4×4 off-road vehicle would have needed more than one hour to get there. Delivery by car usually costs up to 150 US Dollars, including the return ride.
All of the beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVOLS) flight operations are approved by the Vanuatu Civil Aviation Authority as well as leading CASA regulators that were contracted to consult the project. Wingcopter’s safety procedures include a newly developed release mechanism to descend the delivery box from a safe height and head home immediately without landing.
“With the success of this project, the number of unvaccinated children can be significantly reduced and brings us closer to our vision of saving and improving lives by building a fast and safe drone delivery infrastructure,” Wingcopter staff says.
Wingcopter already partnered with German logistics company DHL on a similar project in Tanzania, where medicine and lab samples were flown by a Wingcopter drone from the Medical Stores Department and a University clinic in Mwanza city and Ukurewe island (Lake Victoria). Waiting times for patients could be reduced from several days to just a few hours.
The initiative is led by Vanuatu’s Ministry of Health and Ministry of Infrastructure & Public Utilities through the Civil Aviation Authority of Vanuatu. Technical support and financing are provided by UNICEF, the Global Fund and the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s innovationXchange.