Largest ever UAV deployment set for Ghana humanitarian effort

By Luke Geiver | July 02, 2015

The largest deployment to date of unmanned aircraft systems used for a humanitarian effort will take place in the Republic of Ghana. The effort will be led by the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association and Ausley Associates Inc., a UAS engineering and consulting firm based in Maryland.

Gavin Brown, executive director of MAMA, has been in discussion with the Republic of Ghana for the past year about the possibility of creating a unique logistics and delivery system for healthcare-based products. Brown originally met with Ghana officials at a Paris air show. The entities have agreed to execute the logistics program in an effort to deliver medicine or test results to or from locations all over Ghana, a country roughly the size of Oregon with a population equivalent to 90 percent of California’s (approximately 28 million).

Ausley will coordinate the operations, logistics, management, airspace coordination, frequency management and the flying and scheduling of the UAVs. Materials donated or planned for use in Ghana will also be managed by Ausley through the Port of Baltimore and the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshal Airport.

The Need For UAVs

According to Brown, the need for UAVs in Ghana is great. For most medicinal or test result deliveries, it can take up to 21 days to reach or return from remote areas, he said. Brown’s goal for the program they have called the Humanitarian Emergency Logistics Program is to package and deliver a vaccine or test result in a half-a-day or less utilizing unmanned cargo-based vehicles.

Scott Sanders, chief technology officer for Ausley, believes his experience with UAVs will help in the HELP program. Sanders has worked with a wide size range of UAVs across parts of Africa already. “Everything over there is about logistics,” Sanders said of the large continent with a wide range of cultures and lifestyles.

“This [HELP] is really opening up the aperture for how development can go. It will open up so many other things there for the benefit of the people of Africa,” he said.

The UAVs will also help deliver packages and cargo to places that previously couldn’t receive them due to temperature requirements. According to Sanders, some medicines were undeliverable due to the lack of temperature regulated logistics options.

How UAVs In Ghana Will Work

“When I first proposed the project of providing these logistics,” Brown said, “they [Ghana officials] were a little leery of unmanned systems because all they knew about them was from the press and that they are used for weaponry or spying.”

After explaining the potential of a wide range of UAVs—from fixed wing to rotary to optionally manned—to the Ghana team, they all agreed to move forward with the project.

Sanders is currently exploring several cargo-capable UAVs that could carry roughly 600 pounds for a few hours. He is also looking into small UAVs that can carry smaller packages.

Brown has worked to establish a series of logistics centers that will house products, people or operational infrastructure. The logistics network will allow for the fast deployment and rapid response to health-related issues such as Ebola.

In addition to establish and running an in-place health distribution center in Ghana that will utilize both manned and unmanned vehicles as the mainframe for moving product, Brown said the project can also be considered a rapid response system for outbreaks.

During the Ebola outbreak, it took the majority of response efforts roughly 9 months, but, after the proof of concept program is completed in Ghana, “we could be in place to respond to any future outbreak anywhere in the world,” Brown said. “We are helping the areas in need with what they need, when they need it and where they need it.”

After funding from government, philosophic and private donors commences, MAMA and Ausley will being the groundwork in Ghana to establish regional medical distribution centers before it begins deploying UAVs or optionally piloted vehicles into the field. Initially, Sanders and his team will use manned, optionally-piloted vehicles to test and ensure the proper drop-off locations and protocols for delivering the medicinal packages. “This is going to be a crawl, walk run approach. If you have systems that are optionally piloted you can get more production early on. You can be returning samples early on rather than waiting for the full system to be developed,” Sanders said. The eventual system, he added, will include beyond-line-of-sight operations equipped with sense-and-avoid technology on the UAVs.

“This will be the first large humanitarian deployment of UAVs in the world,” Brown said. “We are going to utilize tech that exists today.”

This will be first large humanitarian deployment of UAVs in the world. We are utilizing tech that exists for rotary and fixed wing, along with unmanned. The full system is expected to running in two years.