UAV Start-Ups Combating Zika Grab Federal Funding

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has awarded funding to two unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) start-ups as part of its “Combating Zika and Future Threats Grand Challenge.”

USAID launched the challenge in April to provide up to $30 million to develop smart and scalable ideas to address the Zika outbreak and improve the ability to prevent, detect and respond to future infectious-disease outbreaks. In just two months, innovators from around the world submitted nearly 900 ideas, the agency says.

After a rigorous review process, 21 awardees received funding in August. Now, UAV companies Vayu and WeRobotics are part of the latest $3.3 million funding round to five more winners.

According to USAID, the Vayu team aims to replace hours of driving on treacherous roads with flying autonomous UAVs. Using drones, Vayu plans to deliver critical medical supplies to remote villages and ferry back lab samples to medical facilities. The company will work closely with local health workers to reach the most isolated areas made inaccessible by poor roads.

WeRobotics, in collaboration with the Food and Agricultural Organization/International Atomic Energy Agency, will develop new techniques for vector control by using UAVs for aerial release of sterile mosquitoes. Mosquitoes that mate with them produce no offspring, explains USAID.

“The Grand Challenge to Combat Zika and Future Threats is attracting the world’s brightest minds to solve this global challenge,” comments Wendy Taylor, director of the Center for Accelerating Innovation and Impact at USAID. “By working together with leading innovators and our partners in government, business and civil society, we will quickly scale up new innovations to help communities everywhere, including the world’s most vulnerable, to combat Zika and prevent future outbreaks.”

Other winning solutions include the use of telecom data collected from mobile phones to enhance Zika surveillance and the use of data visualization to map the risk of international disease spread.

The full list of awardees can be found here.


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