After years of planning, testing and developing, the Wings For Aid Foundation, founded by Barry Koperberg in 2014, is really starting to take off – right on schedule for its plan to become fully operational in 2020. The demonstration flight departing from Wacawa military ground in Curaçao in the Caribbean last week, marked the start of a world information tour heading next to Africa.
Barry Koperberg explained the idea behind the world tour: “We are building up our international network to become a cargo drone airline for emergency aid logistics. With our system we can provide thousands of people in need with food, water or any other lifesaving supplies. Humanitarian actors can use our service, when other means of transport are not available, too expensive or too dangerous. During the world tour we want to demonstrate our work and show the logistical impact of our system.” The advantage of the world tour is on both sides. Wings For Aid has planned to be present at various forums, conferences and exhibitions in countries that could benefit from their services. While, on the one hand, explaining the system to pertinent stakeholders, Wings For Aid will, at the same, test-drive operational procedures, learn more about the individual requirements of each area, and take these into account for any process adaptations.
What is Wings For Aid exactly?
A two-part Dutch solution to the challenge humanitarian organizations face of getting much needed, lifesaving supplies to people in remote or cut-off areas. Barry Koperberg’s approach originated from the fact that, “20 million people each year are without much needed supplies”, and the problem that the “last mile” in delivery can mean up to 250 km of difficult or unpassable terrain, often without landing possibilities. So, the idea was born to develop flying boxes and unmanned drone planes: “Using automatic flights and patented self-landing boxes, Wings For Aid offers new possibilities to oversee situations, overcome obstacles and deliver emergency aid efficiently, exactly where it is needed.”
Registered in 2014, the Dutch start-up has been intensively working together with private partners, technical universities as well as the NLR and DLR, (the Dutch and German aerospace institutes), in establishing the since patented self-delivery box, and the regulations for unmanned flights. The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Development Cooperation provided co-funding, and Wings For Aid has both participated in the Innovation Accelerator World Food Program, as well as recently won TIACA’s Sustainability Award (CFG reported). “In short, Wings For Aid [has] developed a strategy to make micro-distribution scalable, anywhere and at any time.”
Part 1: A sustainable, over-sized, flying egg box
What do you think would happen if a cardboard box of 30 raw eggs was dropped out of an aircraft at a height of 100m, at a speed of 90km/hour? The answer? Nothing! It was exactly this experiment trialed in the Dominican Republic in November last year, together with the Red Cross, that Wings For Aid used to test the crumple zone on the latest version of their self-landing delivery box, and the eggs remained unscathed. Not only that, the box landed precisely where it was supposed to land!
Together with Smurfit Kappa, the Wings For Aid Foundation worked on the box design for 3 years. The first concept was patented by Barry Koperberg in 2017 and successfully tested in 2018. What has emerged, is a water-resistant, cardboard box, with wings and a stabilizer to steady it as it parachutes from a plane to a pre-determined and traceable location. The box lands upright, since its crumple zone hits the ground first and ensures content integrity for up to 20kgs of weight. Not only are mass production costs low, the box is environmentally friendly in more ways than one: the biodegradable cardboard can also be used for heating or insulation once it has served its initial delivery purpose.
Part 2: Dropping off deliveries with a difference
With the boxes established, work is still going on, together with the relevant authorities, to approve the design and regulations required for unmanned, remotely piloted aircraft. The aircraft currently in use, is produced in Slovenia, has a 10-meter wingspan, and can carry six boxes per flight. At, for example, 200 meals per box, this means that a single flight can deliver 1,600 meals to a set location. Plans are to introduce a cargo drone system this year, with a new remotely piloted aircraft in mid-2020 that can carry eight boxes instead of six, upping its payload to 160 kg, and able to distances of up to 250 km while still allowing for pin-point drop accuracy.
Next stop, Rwanda.
From the Caribbean kick-off last week, the demonstration tour is headed to the African Drone Forum in Rwanda, which runs from 05-07FEB20. Wings For Aid signed a cooperation agreement with Rhenus Air & Ocean in July 2019, who is its official logistics partner both for the world tour and in supporting the fast, efficient transport of the delivering system to those areas in need of it when required. With the perfected box, the intense collaboration with the authorities regarding unmanned drone flights, and once all the various logistical challenges collected on this tour have been worked into the service to ensure the best implementation, Wings For Aid is on schedule to become fully operational this year.
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