UNICEF and the Malawi government will establish a flight corridor to test how drones can be used for humanitarian purposes, such as capturing images during emergencies, delivering medical supplies, and delivering wireless connectivity. “We know that some drone companies are potentially conducting one-off humanitarian use tests,” the UN program’s Harriet Dwyer wrote in an email, but “this is the only public [humanitarian drone] corridor we know of.”
A designated drone-testing corridor, up to 40 kilometers long, will let researchers determine how the unmanned aircraft can safely effectively be used. A 10-kilometer test flight earlier this year found drones showed promise in swiftly transporting dried infant blood samples for HIV testing. Drone delivery is taking off in general around the world, with Amazon announcing earlier this week its first such commercial delivery, made in Cambridgeshire, England. Drone carrying strengths vary widely, with off-the-shelf models ranging in capacity from under a kilogram to up to 40 pounds.
The drone corridor is expected to be up and running by April and remain in place for one to two years, with corporate, university, nonprofit, and individual users able to indicate their interest in participating through an online form.