Developing drones for humanitarian aid

Air Serv International and the University of Michigan’s Aerospace Department have partnered on a year-long program to develop an unmanned aircraft designed specifically for humanitarian operations.

The program, called Michigan Sustainability Applications for Aerospace Vehicle Engineering (M-SAAVE) and funded by the Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Flight Vehicle Institute, will culminate in the design, development, and field testing of an unmanned aircraft customized to the needs of field mission surveys and deliveries, according to officials.

“This unique program will not only afford the students the ability to see the fruits of their work applied in a practical situation, but will reiterate the broad advantages of aircraft beyond just the commercial industry — in this case, improving the human condition by expanding the reach of humanitarian relief and assistance through aviation,” said U-M Aerospace Professor George Halow. 

Supply chain demands can be trying in even the most developed areas, but when working with remote and isolated communities, aid professionals face numerous hurdles, according to Air Service officials. Geography, weather, political climate, war, and infrastructural instability all add extra layers to the complications of transportation. All of this was exacerbated by the global COVID-19 pandemic, they add.

The mission of the M-SAAVE team is to harness technology and aeronautical engineering to “safely, economically, and practically address these challenges,” they said.

The program is expected to launch in the fall of 2021. While the initial agreement is for one year, that may be extended, “with the possibility of continued collaboration to aid in the development of aerial solutions for the humanitarian sector,” officials noted.

“Now is the time for a partnership like this, merging education, expertise, and demand,” said Air Serv consulting lead Henk Boneschans. “There are two continuously growing sectors in this world which are overlapping more and more — humanitarian aid and technology. It makes absolute sense that technology can and must be used to alleviate the dire needs of the less fortunate, and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are the next logical step in the evolution of humanitarian aviation.”

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