Unifly, a Belgian software firm that develops unmanned traffic management (UTM) solutions, has joined forces with UNICEF to create the first ever UTM drone corridor in Africa.
The “humanitarian drone corridor” in Malawi serves as a dedicated unmanned flight testing space and includes Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) testing in a territory spanning more than 1,900 square miles up to 1,300 feet above ground level.
Last year, the Malawi government and UNICEF opened up the initial 25-mile-radius drone corridor over the nation’s Kasungu Aerodrome in an effort to improve emergency rescue operations and further aerial research. The corridor is used by universities and some private sector business in addition to public-safety agencies.
“Malawi has over the years proved to be a leader in innovation and it is this openness to innovation that has led to the establishment of Africa’s first drones testing corridor here in Malawi,” said Malawi’s Minister of Transport and Public Works Jappie Mhango.
“We have already used drones as part of our flood response and we can see the potential for further uses, such as transportation of medical supplies, which could transform lives in remote rural communities.”
While Malawi and UNICEF handle the overall management of the system, Unifly works behind the scenes, providing the UTM software platform that connects uAvionix trackers to follow the drones in real-time.
Unifly technicians tested the UTM in November 2017, during a fully autonomous, simulated blood sample delivery flight. The flight testing explored drone applications in emergency medical supply delivery, vaccines and sample delivery for diagnosis, and remote sensing.
Company officials say the flight lasted around 16 minutes and covered an actual distance of almost 12 miles.
According to a company statement, the corridor will mostly be tested in the following areas:
- Imagery – generating and analyzing aerial images for development and during humanitarian crises, including for situation monitoring in floods and earthquakes;
- Connectivity – exploring the possibility for UAVs to extend Wi-Fi or cell phone signals across difficult terrain, particularly in emergencies;
- Transport – delivery of small low weight supplies such as emergency medical supplies, vaccines and samples for laboratory diagnosis, including for HIV testing.
“It has been a pleasure to work with uAvionix in setting up the UTM system for the Malawi Drone Corridor,” Marc Kegelaers, CEO of Unifly, said. “The cooperation between uAvionix and Unifly is a perfect example of what can be achieved when complementary companies join forces to create an all-encompassing solution.”