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A drone delivery company won Germany’s $26 million coronavirus hackathon

The German government is looking toward tech to help solve many of the challenges imposed by coronavirus. They’re so committed to getting a response from tech companies that they hosted a coronavirus hackathon, with €24 million in prize money (that’s about $26 million) on the table. And one of the winners of the coronavirus hackathon was a drone delivery company.

German drone delivery company Wingcopter, UNCEF and the African Drone & Data Academy together were named one of the nine winners of the coronavirus hackathon, which was dubbed #SmartDevelopmentHack.

Wingcopter coronavirus hackathon
A Wingcopter drone with its winch dropping mechanism

For the project, a team comprised of Wingcopter, UNICEF and the African Drone & Data Academy showed how drones can improve health supply chains during COVID-19 and to open up new long-term opportunities for youth in Africa. They proposed a delivery drone network in Malawi that would provide on-demand access to medical supplies such as COVID-19 test kits or vaccines, once available.

But the drone delivery network wouldn’t stop there. it would serve a dual purpose as a training program for 160 Malawian youth, where Wingcopter would develop a virtual educational platform and provide students with technical equipment and pre-installed software that requires no internet connection, teaching them how to assemble, operate, and maintain Wingcopter drones. The team suggested that the training would provide young adults with “the tools to pursue new entrepreneurial or job opportunities.”

The hackathon was run by the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development to “solicit innovative digital solutions to tackle the challenges caused by the coronavirus outbreak in low- and middle-income countries,” and funding came from supporters including the European Commission (through EuropeAid), GIZ, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Smart Africa, Technical University Munich, Oracle, and SAP, and others. The €24 million in prize money was divided between the nine winners. The portion allocated to the drone delivery team will further be split between Wingcopter, UNICEF and the African Drone & Data Academy.

A Wingcopter drone resting on Bugarura Island in Rwanda, one of the places where Wingcopter has conducted drone deliveries.

Wingcopter has already done similar work in a few African countries by delivering medical commodities to hard-to-reach areas by drone.

Wingcopter is known for its eVTOL drones (vertical take-off and landing), which are intended to combine the advantages of multicopters (takeoffs and landings in tight spaces) and fixed-wing airplanes (fast and efficient forward flight). Its drones lower the supplies they’re delivering through a winch mechanism, thus requiring no landing infrastructure.

The company has been on a tear recently, having joined the team at UPS Flight Forward (UPSFF), which is the drone delivery arm of UPS, as the creator of its “next generation of package delivery drones.”

Wingcopter also recently announced a trial on behalf of the NHS Scotland to provide the Isle of Mull with coronavirus tests via Wingcopter drone delivery. They said that given the remote location, drone delivery cuts delivery times between Lorn and Islands Hospital in Oban and Mull; and Iona Community Hospital in Craignure on the Isle of Mull from as much as 6 hours by the traditional mode of transport — a combination of car and ferry — to just 15 minutes. That route requires that the drone fly about 10 miles.

What’s more: amidst massive unemployment, Wingcopter is one of the few companies out there that’s actually on a huge hiring spree for all types of fields and jobs including sales, marketing, engineering and, yes, drone pilot. The company said they have plans to grow from its current team of 45 employees to 70 within the next few months.

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