By Patrick Meier
WeRobotics recently co-organized a unique Experts Meeting on Cargo Drones in Humanitarian Action. The 2-day meeting was kindly hosted by the University of Sheffield’s Logistics and Supply Chain Management (LSCM) Research Centre and co-organized with the Last 100 Miles Research Group (LCmRG), FSD and ECHO. The Experts Meeting was a long time in the making; I started discussing the need for such an event with Sheffield in early 2015.
The unique event finally brought together a cross-section of experts from the humanitarian industry, robotics industry and private sector. Participants and invited speakers included the World Food Program (including the Air Transport Unit), World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Department of Field Support, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), World Bank Group, Mercy Corps, Medair, MapAction, Airbus, Zipline, Redline, Quantum Systems, Vayu, Wings for Aid, UAVaid, Llamasoft and the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations.
The fact that we had seasoned experts in the room directly engaged in humanitarian aviation, logistics and cargo delivery in places like the DRC meant that we were really able to explore the actual opportunities and challenges at hand. Equally vital were the expert engineers in the room who are the ones actually developing the next generation of aerial robotics solutions for cargo transportation. What’s more, because we had several different manufacturers at the meeting, our humanitarian partners could actually compare and contrast the different solutions vis-à-vis range, payload capacity, fail-safe mechanisms, costs, etc. In short, the 2 days of brainstorming were not speculative but action-oriented and focused on facts and problem-solving rather than hypothetical debates, which was very refreshing indeed!
The main topics we addressed included the current state of autonomous robotics; concrete opportunities for supply chain improvements; specific cargo and logistical needs of aid and development organizations including an overview of current best practices; key robotics and technology needs of these organizations; modeling supply chain analysis with robotics in the loop; air traffic management solutions; community needs and job creation; regulatory environment, trends and opportunities; big data and business models; and the development of a Code of Conduct to inform the safe, responsible and effective use of aerial robotics for cargo transportation in humanitarian settings. You can find the detailed agenda along with the PDF of individual presentations here.
We are already talking with our partners at the University of Sheffield about co-organizing a follow-up meeting in early 2017 given the fact that several important cargo delivery projects and field-tests are expected to launch before year’s end. At WeRobotics, we expect to carry out cargo delivery field tests with local partners in both Asia and Latin America by December (assuming all goes to plan). In the meantime, we’ll press on with the development of a Code of Conduct for the use of Cargo Drones in Humanitarian Action.
See the Drones in Humanitarian Action Initiative Website here.