In Remote Madagascar, First Ever Delivery of Lab Samples by Drone

Michigan-based Vayu, Inc. completed the first ever series of long-range, fully autonomous drone flights with blood and stool samples this past week, setting records in the process. The samples were flown from villages in rural Madagascar to a central testing facility, over hilly terrain without any road infrastructure. The unique ability of Vayu’s delivery drone to take off and land anywhere solves that problem and helps vulnerable rural communities to get the medical care they deserve.

Globally, about 1 billion people lack access to good roads, impeding diagnosis and care. “Vayu’s accomplishment is as significant for the field of public health in developing countries, where limited access hinders healthcare as it is for the future of autonomous unmanned vehicles,” said Vayu’s CEO, Daniel Pepper, a former international journalist and medical student-turned founder of Vayu

Tapeworm diseases, which cause life-threatening seizures and contribute to malnutrition, are a top priority for healthcare providers in Madagascar. Diagnosis is a challenge as blood and stool samples are temperature-sensitive, and refrigeration in remote areas is not always possible. Vayu’s drone can carry 2kg of medical supplies 60km; future versions are under development to reach 100km. Unlike the majority of drones on the market today, Vayu’s drone requires no launcher or runway – it can take off and land anywhere.

Vayu develops fully autonomous delivery drones with the aim of revolutionizing the transport of critical medical supplies in developing countries. Vayu’s work in Madagascar is done with support of local government partners and backing from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and in partnership with the Stony Brook University Global Health Institute.

Lack of road infrastructure has a direct impact on health outcomes, especially when disasters strike. Vayu’s technology gives governments and healthcare providers an alternative way to deliver essential commodities such as lab samples, vaccines, and medicine around the world. Vayu has projects planned for Papua New Guinea, Malawi, the Philippines and Nepal — all involving the transportation of critical healthcare goods.

“The flights to and from villages in the Ifanadiana district [of Madagascar] ushers in a new era in bringing healthcare to people living in really remote settings. This day would not have been possible without the support of the government and people of Madagascar” said Dr. Peter Small, the Founding Director of Stony Brook’s Global Health Institute. “In this context drones will find innumerable uses such as accelerating the diagnosis of tuberculosis and ensuring the delivery of vaccines.”