Malawi in south-east Africa is one of the poorest countries in the world. 90 per cent of the population lives off the fluctuating income of agriculture and many people do not have any access to health care. Hospitals in the country’s larger cities can provide basic medical care but there is often not enough medication, blood donations or medical equipment. Furthermore, the country lacks a medical network outside the cities and patients living in rural areas often have to walk huge distances to receive medical care.
Emissions-free, autonomous and VTOL
The start-up Avy is currently investigating how people in such remote regions of the world as well as in urban areas can be better and faster supplied with medicines, vaccines, blood and equipment. Founded in 2016 in the Netherlands, the team under founder Patrique Zaman has developed a wing drone that aims to revolutionise the future of aviation and therefore do something “good” for the world. ‘We founded Avy with the aim of developing an electric wing drone that flies fully autonomously and without emissions, that can take off and land vertically (Vertical Take-off and Landing, or VTOL for short) and whose operations are focused on life-saving missions and applications’, explains Patrique Zaman.
The wing drone combines the agility of a drone with the efficiency of an aircraft. It takes off like a drone, but in the air, it relies on its wings instead, making it much quieter than a normal drone and able to fly out of sight without having to recharge. The costs are also much lower than for an aeroplane or a helicopter.
Over the past few years, the start-up company has tested its technology, rehearsed operations and sent the wing drone on test flights in all weather conditions and situations, primarily in Africa. Now, they want to focus on its operational launch and commercial development. As early as 2020, the EASA (European Union Aviation Safety Agency) will implement new EU-wide regulations for unmanned aerial vehicles. Drone companies will then be able to fly their aircraft with heavy cargo and over long distances without visual contact, i.e. BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight).
Medical supplies and environmental protection
Avy initially intends to focus on two areas of application, primarily in Africa and Europe: medical supplies and environmental protection. Together with partners such as Unicef, the drone will in future supply medication, vaccines and blood at regular intervals as well as in acute emergencies to places that are difficult to access. In emergencies, AEDs (Automated External Defibrillator) and sterile surgical instruments will also be moved from a central storage location to local clinics. In addition, the drone, which currently has a maximum take-off weight of ten kilograms, will also collect blood and tissue samples from any location and take them to a central laboratory for examination. In Europe Avy will be the first drone company, that will do BVLOS flights by air ambulance.
But it’s not just people's lives that count. The drone will also be used to protect wildlife and nature. ‘From the air, environmentalists can use cameras and thermal imaging cameras to better protect areas such as national parks’, says Zaman. ‘Animals can be identified and counted much more easily and the entire infrastructure better monitored. Disasters such as floods and major fires can be better controlled and poachers detected at an early stage. And last but not least, helpful maps can be created using the data gleaned’.
Like a Swiss Army Knife
Avy views its drone as a tool. ‘We call our wing drone Swiss Army Knife because it functions as a flying multitool’, says Zaman. ‘The functions and payload are modular so that it can be easily adapted to specific requirements. This means that we can switch from Cooled Medical Cargo to Thermal Imaging and from Multispectral to Mapping in just a few minutes. We’re trying to think with the customer and prepare ourselves for a wide range of applications’.
The focus is always on positive applications. ‘We do not use fossil fuels or work with mining companies and are strongly opposed to applications that involve warfare or defence. There is of course also a large area of applications that does not involve saving lives but is also not classed as “bad” either. Nevertheless, we always try to ascertain where we can achieve something “good”. If, for example, our drone were used instead of a helicopter in logistics and freight, this would have another positive effect because fossil fuels would no longer be used’, says Zaman.
But Avy is thinking even bigger. Over the coming years, the start-up wants to become a proper aviation company. ‘I firmly believe that the future of aviation will be electric, VTOL and autonomous and we want to be a leader in this market’, says Zaman. In ten years’ time, he thinks that Avy will offer a broad product range of smaller drones such as those currently being tested and larger drones for larger cargoes. And at some point, it is hoped, Avy drones will also be able to transport passengers.
To ensure that the drones can already fly in accordance with the new EU regulations, Avy has met the requirements of the most difficult safety category that can be achieved, namely SAIL-6. This will allow the start-up company to fly over very densely populated areas with a large airborne device. This requires, among other things, triple security redundancy in all systems. ‘While other drone manufacturers say they can fly very fast or carry large cargo’, says Zaman, ‘we can say that we can fly safely over densely populated areas’.
Avy at Hypermotion
On 28 November 2019, Avy founder Patrique Zaman will join other industry players to discuss the subject of a “Brave new world?” and which new market participants are influencing market events today and in the future as well as how the ecosystem can be shaped at the Smart Mobility Conference at Hypermotion.
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