Successful pilot demonstrates potential new option for delivering medicines and vaccines in hard-to-reach locations and during emergencies. Additional tests planned.

SANTA BARBARA, Calif., July 10, 2019/PRNewswire/ — A consortium led by humanitarian aid organization Direct Relief today announced the successful completion of a program testing the potential to deliver temperature-controlled medicines and vaccines by using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, also known as drones). It is the fourth in a series of proof-of-concept missions the group has undertaken to demonstrate the potential of using UAVs to safely deliver temperature-dependent medicines and vaccines to hard-to-reach locations. Direct Relief, Merck (known as MSD outside the U.S. and Canada), Softbox, AT&T and Volans-i are working together on the project.

The successful pilot and the potential of UAV technology could represent an important step forward in biopharmaceutical supply chain innovation and for humanitarian efforts around the world. The pilot was conducted in the Bahamas. The group previously conducted test flights in Switzerland and Puerto Rico.

“Experience and research consistently show that those most at risk of health crisis in disasters live in communities which are likely to be cut off from essential health care due to disruption of transportation and communications,” said Andrew Schroeder, who, among other responsibilities, leads analytics programs, data visualization, and geospatial analytics for Direct Relief. “Drone delivery is one of the most promising answers to this problem. More remains to be done to operationalize medical cargo drones in emergencies. But successful tests like this one demonstrate that remarkable new humanitarian capabilities are emerging quickly.”

While the technology is promising, the potential viability of the technology for real-world application will depend on several factors, including tackling diverse and evolving regulatory challenges around the world.

“This successful pilot demonstrates the potential of innovative UAV technology to aid in delivery of temperature-dependent medicines and vaccines to people who critically need them,” said Craig Kennedy, senior vice president, Supply Chain, at Merck. “The potential of UAV technology is just one of the many areas in which we are innovating across our business and our supply chain to maximize our ability to save and improve lives around the world.”

The pilot test was conducted fully autonomously with cold-chain delivery technology allowing for precise temperature control of medicines and vaccines at temperatures as low as minus 70 degrees Celsius, the temperature required for storing and transporting some life-saving medicines and vaccines. It utilized live, continuous temperature tracking through the duration of the flight with cloud-based, real-time data analysis and collection, designed to ensure safe and effective delivery.

“Our goal is to revolutionize the way goods and people move in the world,” said Hannan Parvizian, CEO and Co-Founder of Volans-i, in San Francisco. “Successfully demonstrating our ability to make temperature-controlled drone deliveries in various climate and terrain conditions across these pilots is a first step towards realizing our vision for a world in which no one should be deprived of access to life-saving medical supplies and vaccination due to lack of infrastructure and responsiveness of the transportation ecosystem.”

Richard Wood, Director, Digital Connected Technologies at Softbox, said, “This most recent proof-of-concept test has once again demonstrated the capabilities of the Softbox SKYPOD for the transportation of life saving medicines, this time at ultra-low temperatures. To ensure full track and trace throughout the test flight Softbox utilized Internet of Things (IoT) technologies and data dashboard services provided by AT&T. The data collected during the successful flights has shown everybody involved the power of IoT to provide full visibility of the Cold Chain, even in the most extreme environments while using innovative transportation modes. Through close collaboration with Direct Relief, Merck, Volans-i and AT&T, we have successfully proven the capabilities of this unique and ground-breaking combination of cutting-edge technologies and now will focus our efforts on completing subsequent pilot projects.”

In the test, a UAV flew over open water between the islands of the Bahamas, beyond the operator’s line of sight. Volans-i built and operated the all-electric drones, and the temperature-controlled payload box was developed by Softbox and connected by AT&T. Merck initiated the idea and provides supply chain expertise. The collaborators will now advance the pilot program so the technology can be tested in Africa and Latin America. The group of organizations involved in the successful pilot plan to continue to explore ways in which this technology can be used to deliver life-saving medicines and vaccines to the communities that need them most.

About Direct Relief
A humanitarian organization committed to improving the health and lives of people affected by poverty or emergencies, Direct Relief delivers lifesaving medical resources throughout the world to communities in need—without regard to politics, religion, or ability to pay. For more information, please visit https://www.DirectRelief.org.

About Merck
For more than a century, Merck, a leading global biopharmaceutical company known as MSD outside of the United States and Canada, has been inventing for life, bringing forward medicines and vaccines for many of the world’s most challenging diseases. Through our prescription medicines, vaccines, biologic therapies and animal health products, we work with customers and operate in more than 140 countries to deliver innovative health solutions. We also demonstrate our commitment to increasing access to health care through far-reaching policies, programs and partnerships. Today, Merck continues to be at the forefront of research to advance the prevention and treatment of diseases that threaten people and communities around the world – including cancer, cardio-metabolic diseases, emerging animal diseases, Alzheimer’s disease and infectious diseases including HIV and Ebola. For more information, visit www.merck.com and connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn.

About Softbox
Softbox is an award-winning, temperature-control packaging innovator that has been designing and producing high-performance passive temperature control packaging solutions for over 20 years. We offer consistent quality to our clients from our strategically located global manufacturing sites throughout Europe, Americas, India and Asia Pacific. We have formed long standing partnerships with the world’s leading pharmaceutical, clinical research, biotech and logistics companies, and apply innovative thinking to overcome the challenges that our clients face in managing the Cold Chain when shipping temperature sensitive clinical trial and commercialized products. In 2014, Great Point Partners, a leading health care investment firm, recapitalized Softbox to provide growth financing for the Company to continue to execute on its expansion, innovation and global investment strategy to support its clients around the globe. For more information about Softbox and its innovative packaging, visit www.softboxsystems.com.

About Volans-i
Volans-i provides fast on-demand aerial delivery service for time-critical shipments over long ranges. We build and operate long-range, high-payload drones for commercial, defense, and humanitarian applications. Leveraging drone technology as a transportation method, we help our customers gain control of their supply chain and save millions of dollars on downtime and inventory costs. To learn more, visit www.flyvoly.com.

SOURCE Direct Relief

SAN FRANCISCO, CA, June 26, 2019– Volans-i, Inc., an on-demand drone delivery business based in San Francisco, CA, announced today that Paul Ricci, former Chairman and CEO of Nuance Communications, will be joining the company’s board of directors.

“We are delighted to welcome Paul to our board,” said Hannan Parvizian, CEO and Co-Founder of Volans-i. “Paul’s leadership, experience and insight will be very valuable- particularly now when we’re in a rapid growth period, both with the capabilities of our autonomous flight technology and in the expansion of our drone delivery service to new countries around the world.”

Ricci retired as Chairman and CEO of Nuance Communications in 2018, after serving the organization for nearly two decades. During his tenure at Nuance, Ricci transformed the company from a small software publisher into a $2 billion leading provider of conversational speech and AI solutions.

“The work Volans-i is doing is visionary and will change the way the world thinks about mobility,” said Paul Ricci. “Soon the autonomous systems they are creating will allow goods and people to quickly, safely and reliably get to where they are needed, no matter where that is. The economic opportunity and improvement in the quality of life for everyone will be immeasurable.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

SAN FRANCISCO, CA, May 13, 2019– Volans-i, Inc., an on-demand aerial delivery business based in San Francisco, has raised $20 Million in Series A funding. The funding was led by Lightspeed Venture Partners, who was the lead investor for Volans-i’s seed round funding, with support from Y Combinator.

Volans-i builds and operates high-speed long-range drones for on-demand delivery of time-critical shipments. These high-payload unmanned aerial systems (UAS) provide delivery services for commercial, defense and humanitarian applications including delivery of parts and medical supplies. The company was founded in 2015 by Hannan Parvizian and Wesley Zheng and is headquartered in San Francisco, with a production facility in Concord, CA.

The Series A funding enables Volans-i to expand its operations in the commercial and defense markets and build out its product offerings.​ ​“Volans-i brings a new means of transportation and aerial autonomy to the market,” says Hannan Parvizian, CEO of Volans-i. “We are very proud to have the support of Lightspeed Partners and our other investors as we expand our services and support our customers.”

Volans-i leverages drone technology as a transportation method to help customers gain control of their supply chain and save millions of dollars on downtime and inventory. The company provides key support to commercial and defense industries, including construction, mining, oil & gas, medical and heavy equipment operations.

Volans-i also creates an avenue for customers and communities to receive life-saving supplies when needed most. Volans-i was a proud partner to an innovative approach to disaster relief in Puerto Rico in 2018-19. In the wake of natural disasters, poor access to healthcare and supplies contributes significantly to illness and mortality. Working with Merck & Co. Inc. and Direct Relief, the Volans-i team tested drone flights and the coordinated processes needed to provide medical supplies to disaster areas. Volans-i provided the drones and the piloting, as well the quick securing of flight permissions. Securing inter-island flight permissions has traditionally been a major stumbling block in the implementation of emergency supply drone cargo deliveries.

The success of the mission demonstrated Volans-i’s expertise and capacity to provide aid to disaster-struck regions with its unmanned vehicles. “Our services via unmanned aerial systems can help save lives in disaster areas”, says Parvizian. “We are pleased to collaborate with Merck and other partners on this innovative new model of disaster-relief delivery.”

 

About Volans-i

Volans-i provides fast on-demand aerial delivery services for time-critical shipments over long ranges. We build and operate long-range, high-payload drones for commercial, defense, and humanitarian applications. Leveraging drone technology as a transportation method, we help our customers gain control of their supply chain and save millions of dollars on downtime and inventory costs.

For more information or media inquiries, contact Kristin Kiser, Director of Marketing kristin@flyvoly.com.

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LAS PIEDRAS, Puerto Rico, Aug. 24, 2018 /PRNewswire/ — Direct Relief, Merck, AT&T, Softbox and Volans-i this week are piloting a test of emergency medical supply deliveries using drones to model an innovative approach to disaster response.

The organizations are testing drone flights and the coordinated processes needed to provide medical supplies by drone in a temperature-controlled environment with real-time monitoring. The long-distance deliveries must comply with U.S. and Puerto Rico laws and regulations for prescription drug delivery, including a documented chain of custody; Federal Aviation Administration approval for flight plans; and, for some products, must be consistently refrigerated to ensure the integrity and effectiveness of the medicines.

The drones are designed to carry the types of medications people often lose access to in disasters, which can lead to health crises or death. The technology of the smart boxes allows for temperature-control when delivering products such as some of Merck’s vaccines. The non-refrigerated cargo can carry medications for asthma and hypertension for instance.

Researchers estimate that most deaths from Hurricane Maria in September 2017, were caused by loss of access to medicines and health care, not by wind or water. As people were displaced from their homes, health centers lost power for weeks, and travel was extremely difficult. This likely contributed to an increase in deaths from chronic diseases that can be managed under normal conditions.

This week tests were conducted with drones flying in challenging terrain in remote areas impacted during Maria, beyond the line of sight. The drone deliveries extend to remote mountain villages that were cut off from electricity and road access for months after Hurricane Maria, some of them for a time accessible only by helicopter.

In upcoming tests, drones will fly over sea to deliver medicines and vaccines.

In this pilot program, each organization has brought something unique to the table to innovate the way medicines are delivered to people who need them:

  • Direct Relief is coordinating the effort, testing how such systems can be deployed in an emergency, and secured the participation of health centers in Puerto Rico.
  • Merck conceived of the project and is funding the tests and donating medications for delivery, using its Las Piedras facility as the departure point.
  • Softbox makes the small temperature controlled packaging system for transporting cold chain medications – those requiring constant refrigeration.
  • AT&T’s Internet of Things (IoT) technology is being used to monitor the temperature and location of Softbox’s cold chain boxes.
  • Volans-i is providing the long-range delivery drones and is controlling the flights.

“Post-Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico has become a hotbed of innovation in disaster relief and healthcare resiliency,” said Andrew Schroeder, director of research and analysis at California-based Direct Relief. “In emergency response, we need to quickly get medicine to remote locations that may be otherwise reachable only by helicopter. As drone technology and systems for managing them improve, we expect them to save lives in places where disasters have cut off access to critically needed healthcare.”

“Merck is pleased to collaborate on this innovative new model for delivering medicines to patients in areas affected by natural disasters,” said Brenda Colatrella, executive director, Corporate Responsibility at Merck. “We’re proud of our long history of expanding access to our medicines and vaccines, and of working with our partners to provide humanitarian assistance. The successful test flights give us hope that we will be able to provide a reliable supply of our medicines for disaster relief.”

“Softbox is proud to be working with Direct Relief, Merck and AT&T on this ground-breaking, innovative project,” said Richard Wood, technical director at Softbox. “We understand the importance of delivering life-saving medications safely and at the right temperature, especially in situations such as humanitarian disasters. We have developed, in collaboration with AT&T, a brand new type of IoT enabled temperature control packaging system, SKYPOD, which has been designed specifically for Drone/UAV delivery systems and to perform in the most extreme conditions, until the medication is delivered to the patient. SKYPOD can be tracked in near real-time using SMARTBOX, powered by AT&T’s IoT, providing real-time data for temperature, GPS location and security, ensuring the protection of the medicines through the most challenging of Final Mile scenarios.”

“Disaster is still fresh in the minds of the people of Puerto Rico. Devastated by one of the worst hurricane seasons on record last year, the island is still in recovery mode. We participated in a drone trial in Puerto Rico to show it’s possible to use drones to deliver temperature-sensitive medicines in places with difficult to reach terrains. Our IoT technology tracks the SKYPOD with reporting data accessible through a dashboard. This could be a game-changer when time is of the essence to deliver vital medicines following a natural disaster or humanitarian crisis,” said Jose Juan Dávila, VP-GM AT&T Puerto Rico & USVI.