Humanitarian Relief with UAV Delivery

While unmanned aerial vehicles were initially built for military use, today we’re seeing drones in the skies for a multitude of applications. Within the last year, FAA regulations have opened up UAV testing for the individual and commercial operator.



Experimental applications are pushing the boundaries of how aerial technology can reshape our ability to assist and respond in applications like healthcare and humanitarian relief.

Providers such as Flirtey, Matternet, DHL, and the Deutsche Post DHL Group have tested UAV delivery for humanitarian aid; while UPS has projects planned in Africa. The Australian RPAS Consortium (ARC), made up of eight groups including UAS International and the University of Sydney, launched the Angel Drone project at the end of October with initial plans of testing the ability to carry blood samples by drone. Another company, Vayu, has developed a fully autonomous UAV that recently flew blood samples from rural Madagascar to a central lab. Vayu, who builds UAVs for transport of vital goods over difficult terrain designed for rural healthcare supply chain and post-disaster aid delivery, aims to make healthcare more accessible for people around the world. 

UAV Delivery for Humanitarian Relief

Many of the challenges faced by villages around the world stem from a lack of access and transportation. Vayu’s founder, Daniel Pepper, founded Vayu to help solve some of those challenges. By providing the ability to diagnose and treat certain conditions via UAV-delivered test samples and vaccines, Vayu hopes to prevent unnecessary illness and mortality. In order to carry out its mission, Vayu, and others working to utilize UAVs for humanitarian relief, have regulatory barriers to overcome.

Currently, there are no countries allowing beyond-line-of-sight autonomous flight. Regulations prohibiting UAV flight outside of the line-of-sight make it difficult for organizations like Vayu to carry out UAV delivery for humanitarian purposes. Vayu, however, and others continue to work individually with local and national entities to overcome these barriers.

How the Vayu UAV Works

Vayu, along with Flirtey, Matternet and UPS via CyPhy Works, all use KDE Direct multirotor components. Vayu’s UAV combines the characteristics of a quadcopter and a fixed-wing aircraft and works autonomously once a destination has been entered. A few key points about this UAV:

  • Vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL)
  • Horizontal flight for extended range
  • Requires no runway or launch mechanism
  • Lands in parking lots, roofs and other flat surfaces
  • Is capable of carrying 4.5 pounds for approximately 40 miles, with goals to extend the range to 60 miles in the near future

Due to a lack of infrastructure in some developing countries, UAV delivery has many advantages due to vertical take-off and landing capabilities. Vayu’s model incorporates helicopter-style propellers attached to static airplane-like wings, which Vayu believes allows their UAVs to land precisely, while still flying economically over long distances.

Importance of Making UAV Humanitarian Technology User Friendly

One issue Vayu and other providers have encountered is the ability of health workers to administer vaccines and make diagnoses. Peter Small, the founding director of Stony Brook University Global Health Institute, worked alongside Pepper during the recent UAV delivery in Madagascar. Small says he is working on a project that trains village health workers to identify prolonged coughs and send for UAVs to deliver tuberculosis testing kits. UAVs will fly back, after samples are tested at the lab, with suitable medications. Included with the UAV delivery will be video instructions to enable untrained individuals to administer the treatment.

Vayu continues to innovate and plans to launch pilot programs in Papua New Guinea, Peru, Nepal and other countries.

Improving Technology for Humanitarian Relief UAVs

Many of the advancements required to make humanitarian relief UAV delivery a reality have the hurdle of regulations. While regulations evolve, technology improves. Advancements in technology will likely influence regulations in the future.

What priorities need to be in place to improve technology for humanitarian relief efforts and UAVs? UAVs require heavier payload capacity and longer flight times. By improving flight time, UAVs will be able to fly longer distances for longer periods of time, reaching locations otherwise hindered by access and transportation.

KDE Direct’s design and engineering teams create components that help increase flight time and payload capacity. By creating components that use the latest technology, we’re proud to be onboard UAVs like Vayu’s and others that are being used for relief efforts. Contact us to see how we can help on your next project.


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