The program tested the potential for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones to complete cold-chain delivery. This is the fourth test in a series of proof-of-concept missions from the consortium, which includes Direct Relief, Merck, Softbox, AT&T, and Volans-I, to determine the potential of drones safely delivering temperature-dependent medicines in hard-to-reach areas.
The trials were conducted fully autonomously with cold-chain delivery technology, which enables the temperature control of medicines and vaccines at temperatures as low as -70 degrees Celsius (-94 degrees Fahrenheit).
It also used live, continuous temperature tracking through the duration of the UAV flight, tapping into cloud-based, real-time data analysis and collection of the drug product to ensure safe and effective delivery.
In testing, the drone flew over open water between the Bahamian islands and out of the operator’s line of sight. Previously conducted testing occurred in the Bahamas, Switzerland, and Puerto Rico.
Hannan Parvizian, CEO of Volans-I, said that the demonstration of temperature-controlled drone deliveries in various climate and terrain conditions across the pilots is an initial step for the consortium's vision to provide access to medical supplies and vaccines where needed.
Volans-i built and operated the all-electric drones, while Softbox created the temperature-controlled payload box that was connected by AT&T for monitoring. The consortium will now advance the pilot program into testing in Africa and Latin America and plan to continue to work with the UAVs to determine how to deliver cold-chain medicines to communities in need.
Richard Wood, director of digital connected technologies at Softbox, said, “The data collected during the successful flights has shown everybody involved, the power of IoT (internet of things) to provide full visibility of the cold chain, even in the most extreme environments while using innovative transportation modes.”
According to the consortium, the potential of drone technology could demonstrate the future of biopharmaceutical supply chain for humanitarian efforts around the world.
However, the group stated that the viability of the technology in real-world applications depends on various factors, including the different regulatory challenges present around the world.