Swoop Aero to fly with Skyports, BD Rowa

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Australia-based drone logistics company Swoop Aero has grown from strength to strength, working with partners within and outside governments to provide lasting healthcare solutions, especially in remote parts of Africa.

Now looking to scale its global operations and transform health supply chains across global markets through the integration of autonomous air logistics in the pharmaceutical industry, Swoop Aero has announced that it will be partnering with two UK and German companies – Skyports and BD Rowa respectively — to open up an air-based avenue for medical and pharmaceutical deliveries.

The three companies announced Monday that they would be combining their unmanned aerial logistics expertise with health care-oriented technology to add a network of delivery drones to global health supply chains.

Swoop Aero and Skyports, two global leaders in drone technology, will integrate their solutions into BD Rowa’s infrastructure of automated technology for the health care and pharmaceutical industries, which includes robots that can automatically pick and dispense medications.

The company also recently added a last-mile delivery network.

“There are so many touch points along the journey pharmaceutical products take from the point of manufacture to the point of patient care,” said Swoop Aero’s CEO and Co-Founder Eric Peck.

“Deploying technology at any one of these provides opportunities to improve healthcare system outcomes. By seamlessly integrating sustainable air logistics to deliver medical supplies, we have already seen significant improvements to access to medicine through our operations.

“Next level thinking is to look outside your immediate field of focus, at what other leading providers are doing in the supply chain, and explore opportunities where collaboration can create more value. BD Rowa has a strong pedigree in developing automated storing and dispensing solutions for wholesalers, pharmacies, hospitals and patients. We are looking forward to working with them to augment the value they bring to health systems by integrating autonomous air logistics.”

The technology from Swoop Aero includes autonomous drones that specialise in contactless deliveries for pathology, pharmaceuticals, vaccines and urgent blood. The aircraft are supported by a tech-based infrastructure that enables real-time location tracking and temperature monitoring for cold chain networks.

Swoop Aero’s solution is particularly useful for accessing remote or hard-to-reach communities; the company’s technology is also good for mapping earthquakes, floods, wildfires and volcanic eruptions and provides live video monitoring feeds to assess safe landing areas and aid in search and rescue efforts.

Swoop Aero’s drones can also be integrated into a company’s existing logistics network and are even able to fly to and from ships at anchor, connecting land- and sea-based operations.

Solving health supply chain challenges can be incredibly complicated. Big transformation comes from seamless integration and coordination across all those with a say in supply chain improvement – not just one piece of technology in a vacuum. Our partnership with BD Rowa Germany and Skyports and our commitment to working within, not as an adjunct to the health system aligns with that thesis.

On the specific role of drones, the real question is not; “can drones be the aspirin for pharma supply chain headaches” – it should be; “when will they be accepted as routine treatment”.

Drone logistics is often lumped into the experimental, novelty or futuristic category. But the value it creates in healthcare is already proven and 100 percent in the present (just look to Africa as an example). Scalable, safe unmanned aviation is unquestionably a powerful tool to deploy in tackling supply chain challenges.

The hard truth is that there are barriers to adopting and integrating this technology. Regulations in most markets continue to pose a formidable barrier to scale. And as with most new technology, it takes motivated early adopters and strong coordinated pushes from the best and most trusted in the industry to move the needle.

The sooner we shift thinking away from novelty, the sooner we see autonomous aeromedical logistics as a routine component in supply chain solutions, the sooner we maximise its impact.

The time for proof of concepts has been and gone. What is needed is strong industry leadership and groundswell support to break down the barriers to scale and push toward normalisation and business-as-usual.

The proof is there. The industry is ready. The future can be now.

Taylor Gray, Head of Partnerships, Swoop Aero.

Skyports, in contrast, is more focused on building the infrastructure that supports drone flights. Leveraging Swoop Aero’s technology in partnership with the U.K.’s National Health Service and Royal Mail, as well as with FedEx in Ireland, Skyports builds and operates landing sites for drones, which it calls vertiports. The sites resemble miniature airports, but they are designed to be accessible to all vehicle types.

Currently, Skyports operates three vertiports. Its main location in London services Europe and the Middle East, while its Singapore site covers the Asia-Pacific region and its Los Angeles location reaches customers in the Americas.

Alex Brown, Skyports’ director of drone services, sees the company’s vertiports as one of the keys to unlocking the global health supply chain.

“We already know the power that drone logistics can bring to healthcare settings from our work with the NHS in the UK, transporting pathology samples and COVID-19 tests,” said Brown.

“In just the UK to date, we have saved over 12,000 hours of patient waiting time, meaning that patients can start treatment sooner and get on with their lives. With this partnership with BD Rowa we’re bringing drone delivery to the pharmaceutical sector to provide speed, frequency and reliability to patients located in hard-to-reach communities across the UK, Europe and the Middle East. We look forward to rapidly expanding this service in collaboration with BD Rowa and Swoop Aero.”

Skyports, like Swoop Aero, has its own fleet of delivery drones that can deliver medical supplies to hard-to-reach places. The company offers two kinds of deliveries — maritime-focused deliveries, including ship to shore, and rural-focused deliveries that are cheaper and faster than a typical ground-based delivery network.

Ever since the first zip from Zipline successfully dropped the blood package needed to save the life of a little girl in Rwanda in December 2016, drone technology has had a steady growth that saw a sharper rise during the pandemic. The American drone logistics provider, Zipline, is often viewed as a leader in the space, having expanded its operations outside Rwanda, into Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and even back home in the USA; into states like North Carolina and Utah.

Zipline’s USA presence includes a partnership with retail conglomerate Walmart, which launched in November, enabling drone delivery of health and wellness products in Arkansas.

Besides Avy (which operates in the Netherlands and Botswana) and AerialMetric (Madagascar), Wingcopter is another drone delivery company that has cemented itself in the health care space. In January, it announced a partnership with unmanned aerial vehicle services provider Spright to supply a “large fleet” of its drones that will be used to enable instant deliveries of medical supplies, such as PPE and lab samples, to rural, underserved and hard-to-reach areas.

Unlike those partnerships, the collaboration between Swoop Aero and Skyports will include a company in BD Rowa that is focused entirely on the health care and pharmaceutical industries.

With headquarters in Kelberg, Germany, BD Rowa provides automation and digitalisation solutions in pharmaceutical logistics, working with pharmacies, hospitals, the pharmaceutical industry and blister centres across Europe.

Mario Ulrich, the Global Industry Leader Pharmaceutical Distribution Center at BD Rowa, has become enamoured to Swoop Aero’s drone-based solution for healthcare delivery.

“We were impressed with Swoop Aero’s technology and the impact they and Skyports were having deploying it in global markets in conjunction with major players in the healthcare industry,” he said. “It was clear early on that we shared common ground. We are excited to bring this new technology and the specialist expertise of both Swoop Aero and Skyports to the table in our discussions with customers globally.”

Monday’s announcement comes on the heels of another partnership for Swoop Aero, a collaboration with global satellite communications provider Iridium that was revealed last week. Swoop Aero will leverage Iridium’s connectivity architecture to enable operations in remote regions, which often lack a strong communications infrastructure.


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