Wings for Wingcopter to expand operations in Africa

German autonomous drone delivery manufacturer Wingcoper are set to further spread their wings in Malawi after their project proposal to fast track the supply of COVID-19 equipment in the Southern African nation emerged a winner in the #SmartDevelopmenthack competition held recently.

Sponsored by the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the hackathon was looking for “innovative digital solutions to tackle the challenges caused by the coronavirus outbreak in low- and middle-income countries.” Eight other start-ups from different parts of the world saw their project proposals emerging victorious after two absorbing days of hacking, with each winning team being awarded 3million euros to breathe life into their projects back in their countries.

For the two days, Wingcopter teamed with the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and Lilongwe-based African Drone and Data Academy (ADDA) to formulate the concept to use Wingcopter drones in expediting the pick-up and delivery of Coronavirus-fighting supplies like PPE test kits and vaccines, once they are available. Scheduled to run for 18 months, the project will see the setting up of a locally operated delivery drone network in Malawi to provide on-demand access to medical supplies. Part of the money will also be used to build local capacity by training 160 local youth. Part of their training will be done via a virtual education platform, and selected students will learn to assemble, operate, and maintain Wingcopter drones. Alongside the data analytics skills provided by ADDA, the students will be equipped with the tools to pursue new entrepreneurial or job opportunities, granting them new economic perspectives.

“Wingcopter’s long-term strategy involves developing a sustainable education platform for youth to enable them to participate in the rapidly growing drone market, offering new job and income opportunities and ultimately improving their quality of life,” explained Tom Plümmer, co-founder and CEO of Wingcopter. “By providing both theoretical and practical training on our drones, we will help young people to enter the industrial drone sector faster and better equipped. This concept is fully in line with our vision and we are happy that the award recognizes and supports this approach.”

With no vaccine so far, the coronavirus’ spread has shocked the world, infecting nearly ten million (1,5million in Africa) and claiming over 500,000 lives, eight thousand of which were Africans. Billions more have been economically affected by the lockdowns that have rendered many a worker unproductive. As of now, Africa has thankfully not had to bear the full COVID-19 explosion straight in the face, but the economic inactivity is taking its toll on most citizens in Sub-Saharan Africa, whose means to putting food on the table is via informal economic means. While a widespread outbreak would have severe repercussions on the already strained Malawian healthcare system, a widespread corona-induced lockdown would cause a substantial loss of economic activities, costing millions of livelihoods.

Wingcopter has also worked with UPS and DHL

To bridge the gap, at least as far as speedy delivery of emergency medical supplies is concerned, Wingcopter offered their fully autonomous electronic Vertical Take-off and Landing (eVTOL) drone. Founded in 2017in Germany, Wingcopter manufactures unmanned electric-powered vertical take-off and landing aircraft, dedicated to improving the lives of people worldwide through meaningful commercial and humanitarian applications. The start-up focuses on the delivery of medical supplies, food and parcels.

The Wingcopter does not need a runway, neither does it require much space to get off and back to the ground. One just has to attach a package onto it – the maximum payload is 6kg – and the Wingcopter is good to go. It needs only five minutes to assemble and the latest edition Wingcopters have topped speeds of 240km/hour; an official Guinness World Record Speed for a drone.

Wingcopter also won first prize and the recently held Lake Kivu Challenge, on the sidelines of the Africa Drone Forum in Rwanda, after completing an emergency delivery well ahead of their competition. Wingcopter’s VTOL hybrid scored the highest for the amount of weight they could carry, the time for accurate delivery, as well as airspace safety and the safe preservation of the sample to be delivered. For the smooth manner in which their operation went, the company also won the safety competition award.

Wingcopter has already been to Malawi, serving remote areas with critical medical commodities. Previously, they have worked with DHL and UPS, among other companies. After proving the concept’s viability and successful implementation in Malawi, the company and its UNICEF partner plan to take it to Rwanda in East Africa.

Other concepts that won the hackathon, in which over a thousand competitors took part, include CallVsCorona: Real-time crisis information in Madagascar and beyond ( Madagascar), Corona Audio Campaign directed at marginalized population (Global South), Digital Agriculture Africa (Kenya, Nigeria), Digital Enquirer’s Kit (Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Ghana, Zambia and Mauritania), Mbaza – AI-based COVID19 chatbot (Rwanda) and Yoma powered by Atingi – Diamonds in the rough, for the Sub-Saharan Africa region.

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