Aid delivery by drone project hits prototype stage

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The pilot scheme is expected to start operating later this year in Rwanda(Credit: Foster + Partners)

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Drones are being developed to aid everything from the military to conservation groups, but delivering medical supplies to isolated areas seems a particularly good fit for the technology. The Norman Foster Foundation is developing such a scheme, and the first prototype Droneport was recently displayed at this year's Venice Biennale.

As we previously reported, the Droneport project (which also involves several other firms too) is intended to deliver medical supplies, spare parts, electronics, and e-commerce to areas of Africa, and possibly elsewhere, that are lacking in paved roads and other infrastructure.

The idea is that each Droneport will be delivered on-site in kit form and include basic formwork and brick-press machinery for locals to construct their own buildings using locally available materials. Each building will house a fleet of cargo drones with a range of up to 100 km (62 miles), delivering supplies to those that need it.

The pilot scheme is expected to start operating later this year in Rwanda and include three buildings by 2020, covering up to 44 percent of the country by delivery drone. Subsequent phases will build additional Droneport units in Rwanda, possibly delivering medical supplies to neighboring Congo and even further afield, eventually branching out all over Africa.

The prototype Droneport building currently on display in Venice, Italy, is a very simple vaulted structure comprising two outer layers of bricks made from a mixture of compressed earth and cement, with an inner layer of tiles. The building pictured should be very similar to those that will eventually be installed throughout Africa, assuming all goes well.

The Droneport's construction process was filmed and will be used to instruct local communities in Africa. Foster + Partners also says that the building could be installed in other areas, such as South America and parts of Asia, for example. In addition, besides drones, the firm posits that its vaulted building also serve as a market, school, or medical facility.

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