The government of Malawi and UNICEF have announced the establishment of an air corridor to test the potential humanitarian usage of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).
According to a press release from UNICEF, it will run for a maximum distance of 40 kilometers and become fully operational by April 2017. The corridor is designed to provide a controlled platform for the private sector, universities and other partners to explore how UAS can be used to help deliver services that will benefit communities.
“Malawi has over the past years faced serious droughts and flooding,” states Jappie Mhango, Malawi’s minister of transport and public works. “The launch of the UAS testing corridor is particularly important to support transportation and data collection where land transport infrastructure is either not feasible or difficult during emergencies.”
The Humanitarian UAS Testing Corridor will facilitate testing in three main 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 UAS to extend Wi-Fi or cellphone signals across difficult terrain, particularly in emergency settings; and
- Transport – delivery of small, low-weight supplies, such as emergency medical supplies, vaccines and samples for laboratory diagnosis, including for HIV testing.
UNICEF says it is working globally with a number of governments and private-sector partners to explore how UAS can be used in low-income countries.
“The establishment of the testing corridor means there is now a place where we can explore the potential of UAS in the development and humanitarian space,” comments Cynthia McCaffrey, director of UNICEF’s Office of Innovation.
The launch of the UAS testing corridor follows a pilot project in March on the feasibility of using UAS for the transportation of dried blood samples for early infant diagnosis of HIV. The study showed that drones are a viable addition to existing transport systems, including those used to help with the diagnosis of HIV.
UNICEF will be finalizing agreements with applicant companies and institutions in the coming months. More information on submitting applications can be found here.
Photo courtesy of UNICEF: In August 2015, Martha Jere, 19, living with HIV, with her son, Rahim Idriss, 8 months old, at their home in Bilemoni village