From the Ground to the Cloud: Day 3
Fran Baker, Sustainability Manager at Arm, talks drones and wearables with UNICEF in Malawi
Since 2015, UNICEF and Arm have been seeking to unlock the life-saving potential of technology to solve the most complex problems facing the world’s children, now and in the future. In Malawi, Arm has taken action through funding UNICEF Innovation programming focusing on child development and emergency preparedness.
In November 2019, a field trip to Malawi allowed Arm leaders to experience programmes firsthand, inspiring them to identify opportunities for co-created technology solutions that will help deliver on the UN’s Global Goals.
6 November 2019 — KASUNGU, MALAWI. Fran Baker, Sustainability Manager at Arm, is currently with UNICEF Innovation and UNICEF UK, along with President & COO, Graham Budd; Chief of Staff to the CEO, John Heinlein; Design Engineer, Hetansh Shah; AI Ecosystems Director, Kate Kallot; and Developer Program Manager, Louise Paul to identify more opportunities for co-created technology solutions that will accelerate the delivery of the Global Goals.
In June 2017, the Government of Malawi, along with UNICEF, launched an air corridor – the first in Africa, and one of the first globally, to test the potential of drones for humanitarian and development use.
Today, we were lucky enough to visit the corridor, which is based at Kasungu Aerodrome in central Malawi. The facility provides a controlled platform for the private sector, universities and other partners to explore how drones can help deliver services that will benefit communities.
The corridor was designed to facilitate testing in three main areas:
- Imagery: Generating and analyzing aerial images, both for development and during humanitarian crises, e.g. situation monitoring in floods and earthquakes;
- Connectivity: Exploring the potential for drones to extend Wi-Fi or cellphone signals across difficult terrain, particularly in emergencies; and,
- Transport: Delivering small, low-weight packages such as emergency medical supplies, vaccines, and samples for laboratory diagnosis.
After consultation with the Malawi Department of Civil Aviation, it was agreed that flights from the facility would be limited to a 40km radius and 400m of altitude, and all projects tested would be open source, open data, sharable and designed for scale, in accordance with UNICEF’s innovation principles.
Go, Drones, Go!
When we arrived, we were excited to see a drone already in action: a team was field-trialling a health delivery service to determine whether a payload of 6kg could be delivered to a healthcare worker in a neighbouring village, 37km away.
The team was keen to share their experience with us, and explained their ambition for a solution that would overcome complex topography and transportation limitations to deliver essential supplies or life-saving emergency items, quickly and efficiently. (For the record, it worked. Hurray!)
"It was thrilling to see Arm-based technology in action, and witness first-hand its lifesaving potential."
It was also inspiring to see how partnership and collaboration can accelerate innovation, even in the most difficult settings.
Wearables Do Data
In the afternoon, we return to Lilongwe for a briefing on the Arm-funded longitudinal study on child development based on wearable technologies – the first ever study of its kind.
Implemented by UNICEF Malawi, UNICEF Innovation and the University of Zurich, the study aims to aims to monitor children in 6,000 rural households over 18 years, collecting data to track children’s mental and physical health – something that can be challenging in rural locations, due to a lack of resources.
To those of us accustomed to visiting our local health facility whenever we’re under the weather, it’s almost impossible to imagine the true meaning of “lack of resources”; in Malawi, there are fewer than 0.1 doctors per 1,000 people and around half of the 18 million-strong population travels up to an hour to reach the nearest community health centre, and up to two-and-a-half hours to reach a hospital. A shocking 6.5% of children die before the age of five.
In this setting, it’s almost impossible to gather the reliable data required to predict disease outbreaks or design effective prevention programs. But, we learned, wearables have the potential to revolutionise the way health and wellbeing are monitored, accurately tracking a range of basic biomarkers – such as skin temperature, heart and respiratory rates – as well as more complex indicators like oxygen saturation and facial coding (otherwise known as emotion detection via facial expression).
Crucially, wearables are cheap and reliable, providing high-quality data, and lots of it – essential for the rational, evidence-based decision-making that’s required to help children thrive.
It was mind-boggling to think that the study will last for almost two decades; it’s hard to imagine what technological advances will be made in that timeframe. But, once again, we were struck by the vast impact that relatively simple technology can make.
Of course, there are still challenges to overcome, both technical – tackling issues around connectivity and battery life – and social – helping overcome communities’ reticence to adopt this hitherto unknown technology – but, if the project succeeds, the rewards will be great. And Malawi will, once again, be recognised as a pioneering hub for tech innovation that addresses humanitarian goals.
Arm technology is at the heart of a computing and connectivity revolution that is transforming the way people live and businesses operate. Our advanced, energy-efficient processor designs have enabled intelligent computing in more than 150 billion chips and our technology now securely power products from the sensor to the smartphone and the supercomputer. In combination with our IoT device, connectivity and data management platform, we are also enabling customers with powerful and actionable business insights that are generating new value from their connected devices and data. Together with 1,000+ technology partners we are at the forefront of designing, securing and managing all areas of compute from the chip to the cloud.