• Drone Technology
  • Drone Delivery Service
  • COVID-19
  • Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
  • Transport and Logistics Innovation

Opportunities for Delivery Drones in Africa and Asia

Sagie Evbenata
Jun 16, 2020


Delivery drones have been playing a valuable role in the delivery of food, medical supplies, and other essential items during the coronavirus outbreak. This escalation in their profile will likely boost future investments in delivery drone development.

The potential for delivering essential goods by drone was established before the coronavirus outbreak, with several services being trialed around the world by big players such as Alphabet’s Wing Aviation, Amazon, DHL, and UPS. However, most of these operations have been in urban areas, small to medium cities or suburbs, and locations in the US, Japan, Europe, Singapore, and other high income nations. There is a considerable opportunity for delivery drones to be successfully deployed in Africa, South and Southeast Asia, and remote regions.

Drones Fly Off the Beaten Track

San Francisco-based Zipline has been delivering supplies ordered by SMS to hospitals within 8,000 square miles of distribution centers in Rwanda, Ghana, and Tanzania. Its deliveries are made by catapulting fixed wing drones into flight and autonomously navigating them to their delivery location, where the drones then parachute their packages and return to base in minutes. These drones address the delivery problems of challenging local terrains, especially in undeveloped rural areas. Lakes, forests, and mountains combined with poor infrastructure networks and inadequate mapping could mean that a blood bag or antivenom needed within the hour may well arrive in half a day’s time if delivered by road. Zipline is planning to expand its services to the Philippines to deliver blood and medical items in a nation made up of over 7,000 islands, whose geography impedes emergency deliveries.

Other notable ventures include the following:

  • Silicon Valley startup Matternet is delivering essential medical supplies in the Himalayan nation of Bhutan and in isolated areas of Malawi.
  • India-based Redwing Aerospace is piloting the delivery of medicine and healthcare supplies to remote regions of Papua New Guinea.
  • DHL is collaborating with German startup Wingcopter to conduct a 6-month trial delivery service in Tanzania using Parcelcopter drones built by Wingcopter.
Drones Take Off in Nigeria

Nigeria-based startup Arone is set to launch an aerial logistics network for medical supplies, starting with two micro-AVports that will serve as hubs for takeoff and landing and where customers can pick up or drop off items for delivery. These ports will house solar-powered drones with a range of 200 km, capable of carrying payloads of up to 20 kg. Furthermore, the company plans to offer its delivery management systems software as a service, so it will be creating advanced performance indicators for integration with e-commerce partners. Another Nigerian healthcare startup, LifeBank, has been trialing drones to deliver blood and oxygen in Ethiopia, and it is planning to launch these services to avoid gridlocked traffic in Lagos.

Challenges Ahead

The coronavirus outbreak has highlighted the immediate need for drones to deliver food and essential items, and these services will remain valuable in Africa, Asia, and remote areas in other regions. However, there are notable challenges hindering more widespread commercial expansion. First, regulatory development to support the commercial expansion of drone deliveries is lacking and needs to be overcome. Furthermore, the technology is still in a proof of concept stage, and the need for improvements is inevitable, particularly regarding the electric range of these drones. Finally, funding for the development of these services is a challenge in low and middle income countries (LMICs). Trials in these regions through mid-2020 have been funded mainly by humanitarian agencies. Foreign investors have been investing in startups in Africa and in LMICs, which will be essential for the growth of drone deliveries in these regions.