Medical drones for Kenyan county

There will be another player on the Kenyan delivery drone space after a Korean drone making company received approval for a pilot project from the government.

Narma, a spin-off company of Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), has held successful initial medical delivery flights in the county of Tharaka Nithi in central Kenya, about 190km north east of the capital, Nairobi.

One of the 47 counties of Kenya, Tharaka Nithi has a population of nearly 394,000 mostly farmers belonging to the Chuka, Muthambi, Mwimbi and Tharaka subgroups of the Ameru community.

Narma – through the Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOIC) has been in talks with the Kenyan government for the introduction of medical drone operations in the east African country since early last year.

Other stakeholders involved in the discussions included the health ministry, various other ministries; as well as country governments.

The discussions centred around getting approval for pilot tests as well as setting the roadmap for the movement of medical supplies that include blood, anaesthesia, antidote, anti-venom; among many other supplies that citizens have a hard time accessing in time.

“Thanks to Tharaka Nithi County, who were very open to our new technology, and we came to an agreement with the county to conduct 300 flights altogether during this Project,” a Narma representative told DronesRAfrica.

“The first demo flight was conducted just recently in February, and the Narma team will be traveling to Kenya again this coming May to conduct rest of 300 deliveries.

“By shortening delivery time of medication by 80 percent, we believe medical drone deliveries can contribute to saving lives in urgent situations.

“The flights would not have been possible without our wonderful partners in Kenya. Dr.Ikuah, Kenya Flying Labs, Chuka Referal Hospital, KOTRA Nairobi and Moi University.”

The team used Narma’s AF200 drone; their flagship small cargo drone that comes with a battery-powered dual-tilt rotor design, which allows it to operate as a multi-copter during take-off and landing, and as a fixed-wing UAV while in mid-flight.

The drone can stay in the air for a maximum of 25 minutes when hovering with a 3kg payload, which time can extend to 45 minutes during level flight with the same payload.

With the capacity to climb to an altitude of 3,000 metres, the AF200 can also endure challenging weather conditions, withstanding average winds of 12 m/s and gusts up to 17 m/s, as well as temperatures as high as 40 degrees Celsius.

Crucially though, we have been impressed by the Korean company’s keenness for sustainability and scalability of this project by including Kenya Flying Labs, a local drone technology custodian of the Flying Labs franchise.

“We came to conclusion that only way to make this drone delivery solution sustainable is to train enough pilots who can operate our drones,” the representative said.

“We opened training sessions on assembly, maintenance and operation of AF200, in which over 40 trainees from Kenya Flying Labs, Kenya Red Cross, county governments, Horizon and local high school aviation clubs have participated.

Aside from the training, two pilots from Kenya Flying Labs will be involved in the coming flight missions

Narma hopes the success of this first phase of the project will lead to further drone deliveries, and expansion into more counties in the country.

“We have already partnered with Moi University and other Counties to start building up network and infrastructure for Seed2 Project.”

Kenya already has a successful medical delivery by drone project in Kisumu, run by Zipline in conjunction with the government and local authorities.


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