5 Challenges to Scaling Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in Global Health

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While unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones) have a dynamic feature set and capabilities that make them a potential game changer in global development and humanitarian use, the adoption of UAV technology in global health is still at a nascent stage.
Many donors, including USAID, have made investments in pilot projects to test the efficacy of UAVs, and these experiments are generating useful learnings that will help fuel further development.
The Center for Accelerating Innovation and Impact at USAID found five challenges to scaling up UAV usage when it looked across UAV pilots and programs, and the current global health landscape. It is important to note that many of these challenges are not only unique to UAVs but can be common when introducing other new technologies in the global health context.
5 Challenges to Scaling UAVs in Global Health
1. Technology and manufacturability
The ability of UAVs to complete global health missions depends on mature, reliable technology that can be manufactured beyond the prototype stage to enable large scale deployment. Yet, few manufacturers have the ability to produce reasonably priced UAVs capable of fulfilling global health missions at scale.
2. Infrastructure
Availability of infrastructure remains uneven across and within countries. This includes hardware like runways or catapults, cellular coverage, maintenance, and air traffic management, and the human capital to manage and grow complex aerial robotics systems.
3. Regulations and policy
While the lack of policies in some countries has created the opportunity for experimentation, it is clear this is not a sustainable path for UAV use at scale. Additionally, regulations in many countries remain largely unfavorable toward UAVs, and restrictive UAV regulations could inhibit development of global health use cases.
4. Community engagement
UAV programs need to sensitize those who use UAVs and all individuals and communities impacted by the UAV activity, to UAV technology, the notification process prior to flights, and a clearly articulated crisis response plan for emergencies.
5. Business model and partnerships
Viable business models are needed to ensure long-term financial sustainability, and should outline how an organization intends to fund their innovation, organize key stakeholders, and operationalize their intervention, including up-front and ongoing costs.
4 Stages of Donor Investment in UAVs
Their analysis also uncovered several opportunities that would benefit from coordinated donor and private sector investment across multiple stages of the UAV development and deployment lifecycle.

  1. Catalogue existing working groups and committees exploring UAVs for global health, and stand up a coordinating body to help align and steer future efforts.
  2. Conduct foundational analysis to create a better understanding of the sector and the potential use cases that exist within it.
  3. Make targeted investments in individual use cases to address roadblocks and confirm hypotheses on the UAV sector.
  4. With a better understanding of market trajectory, invest strategically in large scale challenges most likely to restrict growth of the sector.

By following this multi-stage investment pathway, donors can create better alignment on the highest priority UAV opportunities in global health and generate greater clarity around market trajectory which will help de-risk more significant long-term investments in UAV technology solutions.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Procurement Guide

In an effort to contribute to the UAV community’s knowledge base and prevent organizations from reinventing the wheel or starting from zero, USAID developed a UAV buying guide based on USAID Global Health Supply Chain Program’s Procurement and Supply Management experience in completing the UAV procurement process for cargo applications.
This guide provides:
  • A list of general considerations for evaluating manufacturers.
  • A thorough list of specifications and relevant questions for inclusion in a request for proposals (RFP). This structured approach will help you easily compare and analyze UAV companies and service providers to determine the most qualified and ensure they meet organizational needs.
  • A sample short list of recommended criteria to use when visiting manufacturers or attending demonstrations.

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