To Tacuarembó, Uruguay, to be specific. The 2018-founded Swiss air logistics company, RigiTech, has launched a 4-month pilot project in Uruguay together with partners, focusing on medical transports to and from rural areas. It is the first time that a BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) drone is being operated in Latin America.
Switzerland – a nation that keeps perfect time and has a discerning sweet tooth. Yet, the country not only excels in clocks and chocolate, but is also a serious forerunner in all things drone. According to an article in Tracxn in MAR23, Switzerland boasts no less than 58 drone start-ups concerned with all manner of drone applications: photography, agriculture, meteorology, medical transport, defense, underground operations, warehouse, etc. And the country has premiered a number of drone milestones, such as the world’s first remote ID network, Network Remote Identification (NET-RID), which went into effect at the end of 2021, enabling the exchange of drone flight information with aviation authorities, enforcers, other airspace users and the wider public – an important step in ensuring flight and airspace safety.
A serious player
A serious player, therefore, in a global drone logistics and transportation industry that, according to Research and Markets.com, was estimated at USD 17.92 billion last year – a figure which has been revised to USD 24.18 billion for this year, and which is expected to grow at a CAGR of 35.42% to a staggering USD 202.76 by 2030 – less than 7 years from now.
RigiTech, too, is a serious player. Though the company is a mere five years old, it is one of the first companies to perform long-range deliveries of healthcare materials in Europe. From connecting two hospitals in Rome, Italy, in OCT20, (“This is just the beginning of what the future holds and the benefit that drone logistics can do for the healthcare sector”, the press release promised at the time), to similar pilots with partners in Senegal (MAR21) and South Africa (APR21), Qatar (MAR22), Denmark (JUN22), France (AUG22), Czech Republic (SEP22), and not to mention Switzerland throughout, the time now has come for Uruguay.
A 4-month project
A 4-month pilot project has been launched in Tacuarembó, Uruguay, involving RigiTech, the Spanish-Uruguayan company CIELUM, in coordination with engineer, Franco Simini, from the biomedical engineering nucleus of the Faculty of Engineering (UDELAR), and Tacuarembó Hospital (ASSE). The plan: to test flying BVLOS (Beyond-Visual-Line-of-Sight) medical shipments between Tacuarembó Hospital and three rural polyclinics in the Tacuarembó region: Villa Tambores, Villa Curtina, and Villa Ansina – a small drone delivery network to begin with, with plans to extend this to a maximum of ten rural polyclinics over the course of the pilot. “This project, financed by international cooperation funds, will provide a logistics solution for the largest department in Uruguay (15,400 square km), conquering areas of difficult geographical accessibility, and will reduce the emission of carbon footprints in the transport process by 95%, when compared to ground transportation,” the release details.
Up the Eiger
At the center of it all, is RigiTech’s largest drone, currently – named after one of Switzerland’s iconic mountains: the Eiger. It has a 15-liter/3 kg volume/weight capacity and can cover a distance of 100 km: ideal for the transport of medical supplies and products, such as biological material in the form of breast milk, blood samples, or medicine. In fact, Tacuarembó Hospital has the UNICEF approval as being the first Baby-Friendly hospital in the country, with the nation’s first breast milk bank (BLM). “As a priority, the transport of human milk to and from the BLM is scheduled for children who urgently need it because they are premature, underweight or malnourished, and many mothers are willing to donate this vital food, from surrounding rural areas,” the release explains, going on to point out that the region has succeeded in sustainably decreasing infant mortality over the past 20 years, “starting from very high figures (23 per thousand) to one of the lowest in the country”.
Have authorization, will fly
What was first required, was the necessary authorizations from the DINACIA (National Directorate of Civil Aviation and Aeronautical Infrastructure). These were received, allowing the pilot to begin on 12JUL23. A local team made up of part of the hospital’s permanent staff, and remote monitoring by RigiCloud, (RigiTech’s digital service), carried out the first BVLOS operations last week. “Further signaling the transformative nature of this technological innovation, the hospital also introduced the first vertical port in Uruguay, built at the hospital, equipped with RigiTech’s Precision Landing pads, as well as a hangar (donated by a local company) and adequate lighting to allow nighttime flights,” according to the press release. All set for a more permanent operation then, if all goes well.
Connecting rural regions to better healthcare
Hospital Director, Dr. Ciro Ferreira, stated: “This air logistics strategy will allow us to bring the territory closer, and be at the side of our ASSE users, shorten the time in the diagnosis and treatment of people who live in rural areas, without the need to come to the hospital. The delivery of samples for examinations and their processing in the central laboratory can be done quickly and will serve rural doctors for adequate decision-making in a timely manner, as well as a greater collection of pasteurized human milk for our newborns at the children’s CTI. It will also be possible to deliver medical supplies or specific medicines to the polyclinics, in specific situations that do not admit delays, such as the shipment of anti-venom serum.”
Sebastián Macías, CEO at CIELUM, concluded: “With this project, Uruguay enters a new era: urban and rural air mobility, with unmanned aircraft. This is possible thanks to the development of a low-altitude airspace support that has been set up together with civil aviation and the ANII, and having a reference center such as Tacuarembó Hospital.”
Where to next, RigiTech?
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