UNICEF Innovation Fund Drones Portfolio Update

Key updates from each of the companies over the first six months of their investment period

UNICEF Innovation
Joseph Hing and Rebecca Olul introducing the children of Epi to the magic of drones and how they will be part of a world first drone delivery of vaccines trial to be held in Vanuatu.
UNICEF/UN0259813/Chute
06 July 2020

It has been just over six months since the UNICEF Innovation Fund onboarded its first cohort of drone startups, developing open-source, emerging technology digital public goods to address global challenges and create fairer opportunities for children and young people. 

Throughout the investment period, UNICEF leverages its vast network to connect these companies to UNICEF’s work in their respective countries and provide technical and business development support. As these investments are part of UNICEF’s larger drones programme exploring the use of the technology for a range of applications, including humanitarian supply chain systems and delivery, improved connectivity in hard-to-reach communities, and aerial imaging for better preparedness and response in emergencies, we continue to explore avenues for the companies to directly contribute to the drones programme in different capacities. In addition, the open source code and use cases are being guided to address specific programmatic needs so that UNICEF, its partners, and local entrepreneurs can leverage these learnings and scale innovative solutions that have the potential to positively impact children's lives.   

During the first six months these startups have remained steadfast in developing their solutions while shifting and adapting their workplans to adjust to the COVID-19-related lockdowns imposed in their respective countries. Despite these challenges, the companies have worked to meet product development milestones as well as interact with each other through a series of webinars facilitated by the Innovation Fund team.  

Residents watch a drone operated by Chief Air Traffic Controller Steve Mkandawire, one of five Civil Aviation certified pilots, hover during a demonstration for residents in Thipa vllage, Kasungu District, Malawi.
UNICEF/UN070534/Brown
Residents watch a drone operated by Chief Air Traffic Controller Steve Mkandawire, one of five Civil Aviation certified pilots, hover during a demonstration for residents in Thipa vllage, Kasungu District, Malawi.

Here are some of the key updates from each of the companies over the first six months of their investment period: 

Cloudline (South Africa)  

  • Cloudline operates small-scale autonomous airships, providing an aerial delivery service to governments, international agencies and enterprises for getting essential goods such as medical supplies to remote communities.  
  • Development of airship specific flight control software has allowed the team to get greater maneuverability and control from off the shelf hardware and existing airship configurations. 
  • The first iterations and digital designs of hardware components have been completed such as automated payload releases and cold storage containers for temperature sensitive payloads  
  • Cloudline received the Fast Company South Africa Most Innovative Company Award 

Read more here 


Dronfies Labs (Uruguay)  

Dronfies Labs is developing an intelligent flight system or UTM for drone operations during emergency situations such as natural disasters, compatible with a large variety of consumer drones. 

  • To properly test the UTM, Dronfies have formed a working group in Uruguay comprised of Civil Aeronautical Authorities, Drone Operator companies, First Responders to discuss on regular basis the needs and challenges in regulations and management for drone activities in the Low Altitude Airspace. 
  • Successfully developed and demoed the first iteration of their UTM solution 
  • The Dronfies team have recently extended their contract with the UNICEF Innovation Fund for an additional 6 months, to focus on further refining the UTM solution in low connectivity settings and to explore implementing the solution in various UNICEF Drone Corridors globally 

Read more here 


Prokura Innovations (Nepal) 

Prokura Innovations is developing a locally produced drone system to tackle last mile delivery of crucial medications in Nepal's hardest to reach rural health facilities. 

  • Flight stack customization: in earlier versions of code Prokura only wrote codes in high level API that interact with drones via mavlink. But now, the team have been capable of customizing the lower level flight stack; specifically Prokura have written their own flight mode in ardupilot (an open-source unmanned software suite) for payload delivery. 
  • Prokura manufactured and tested 10km flight test using a fixed wing vtol 
  • In collaboration UNICEF Nepal, Prokura will conduct a pilot relaying COVID19 related messages to highly affected communities using drones and plan to replicate to similar communities should the pilots be successful.  

Read more here  

 Children walk home from a primary school in Llacuash, a farming community in the district of Huallanca, Peru.
UNICEF/UNI117005/LeMoyne
Children walk home from a primary school in Llacuash, a farming community in the district of Huallanca, Peru.

qAira (Peru) 

qAIRa aims to address the global problem of pollution by monitoring the quality of air. Specifically, pollution control in mining areas in Peru and its surrounding populations by measuring the volume of contaminating gases and dust. 

  • The team conducted initial development of the open source version of qAIRamap software for air quality information and made user development improvements to the front-end of qAIRamap making it more user friendly.  
  • Improved the design of the air quality modules and drone module to endure the climate conditions in Madre de Dios.  
  • qAIRa CEO Monice Abarca was also featured in WIPO Green an online platform for climate-change focused technology. Read the full article here  

Read more here  


Rentadrone (Chile) 

Rentadrone detects, classifies, and organizes errors and damaged modules in solar power panels using thermal aerial imagery to increase energy efficiency of solar power plants. The goal is to develop clean energy solutions and explore how to leverage drone technology to practice precision agriculture and ensure food security.  

  • The development of the algorithm of their first open source machine learning platform to detect faults in photovoltaic panels. The implementation of this algorithm in their online platform (Droneraising.com) will allow for the scalability of Rentadrones’ photovoltaic plant inspection services, being able to carry out the analysis of solar plants.  
  • Conducted first online courses (via Droneraising.com)for basic drone operation and drone photogrammetry, allowing Rentadrone to teach drone technology without geographical borders, representing scalability. 
  • Conducted first multispectral data collection with drones, kickstarting the work in the precision agriculture service. 

Read more here 


Bioverse Labs (Brazil)  

Bioverse Labs uses drone imagery and machine learning to identify and map non-timber species of trees that are economically viable for supporting traditional modes of income generation for indigenous populations, thereby contributing to the sustainability of the Amazonian ecosystem.   

Due to the implications of restrictions placed due to COVID-19, Bioverse labs have been unable to conduct data collection, thereby halting the project for the first six months of the investment period. 

Read more here