Nuba Drones: The Healthcare Hovercrafts Saving Lives in Colombia

The Airmed project uses drones to deliver medical supplies to remote areas in the Colombian countryside.

A Colombian start-up is using drones to improve access to health care for people living in remote areas.

Autor*in Ana Galán Herranz, 11.07.17

A Colombian start-up is using drones to improve access to health care for people living in remote areas.

There are still lots of places in the world that are incredibly hard to access due to their difficult landscape and lack of infrastructure. People living in those areas often have to spend hours covering small distances in order to reach basic services such as healthcare.

That’s why Daniel Salamanca, a Colombian aeronautical engineer, founded Nuba Drones a couple of years ago and set up the AirMed project, with the aim of improving access to healthcare in the rural and hilly area around the city of Cali. The project was developed 100% in Colombia by local workers.

The drones are able to transport medicines and blood samples from hospitals to patients and vice-versa, so that local communities can enjoy fast and effective access to basic healthcare. The technology is helping an estimated 20,000 people gain access to this kind of fundamental service.

The company is still testing the drones, but the process is already entirely automated – the drone leaves its base knowing the coordinates for its landing. Once it has reached its destiny, it is loaded (or unloaded) and then returns to its base.

As Salamanca stated in one of Colombia’s main media outlets, Caracol, “This is a unique project due to its impact and the level of technology that is behind it, backed up by a huge amount of research.”  While this project is the first of its kind in Colombia, similar projects have already been launched in other remote regions in the world, such as in parts of Rwanda.

© Daniel Salamanca A Nuba drone returns from a six kilometre test flight.

As well as saving time, these kind of projects can be much more cost-effective than other solutions. “It’s not just the time that these journeys take – they are also expensive to undertake. For example, it costs about 1,500 EUR a month to maintain the vehicle that is generally used to cover the seven kilometres distance between Cali and just one of the rural health centres,” explained Salamanca in an interview with the The Observers.

The drones are constructed from materials from all over the world, while a aeronautical engineer, an industrial designer and a project manager are working in Bogotá to develop the design. Right now, their device can only carry up to 2 kilo of cargo with a battery that only lasts for 8 kilometres. But even that, a six or seven kilometre flight, can make a huge difference for people living in those areas – it takes the drone a little less than 15 minutes to cover a distance that, when covered overland, could take up to two hours.

If you speak Spanish, check out the video below for a closer look.

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