Pfizer contracts WeRobotics to lead new drone project
Pfizer has contracted WeRobotics to lead a new cargo drone project. Their previous partnership focused on engineering a cargo drone add-on to convert DJI’s highly reliable M600 industrial data collection drone into a cargo drone. As part of this earlier project, WeRobotics' partners at Dominican Republic Flying Labs used the repurposed M600 drone to deliver essential medicines to remote health facilities. The purpose of these deliveries was to demonstrate the value-add of locally-led delivery drone projects that use affordable and locally repairable cargo drones.
The M600 cargo drone add-on has since been used very successfully by Nepal Flying Labs to collect patient samples. The company also sent the add-on to Philippines Flying Labs and look forward to seeing their first cargo drone projects.
Pfizer is contracting WeRobotics to engineer a new cargo drone add-on specifically for the M300, DJI’s latest and most reliable industrial drone yet. While the M600 will continue to serve Flying Labs’ needs, the M300 comes with additional advantages and can handle even the harshest weather conditions. The platform also has multiple dedicated sensors for collision avoidance, making it extremely safe for both ground and air risks. It also has double the range of the M600. WeRobotics expects the M300 to have a range closer to 25km compared to the M600’s 10km range. WeRobotics expects the M300’s payload capacity to be around 1.5kg.
Their new project with Pfizer comes at an especially important time as vaccines for Covid-19 need to be distributed at scale, and they need to reach the most remote communities in the world.
While the company has successfully engineered, tested, and deployed the M600 cargo drone on three continents, doing so for the M300 will come with its own set of challenges. With every intention to succeed, they have already learned with the M600 cargo drone and their engineers are keen to start working on it.
The company has been involved in multiple cargo drone projects across multiple countries and continents since 2016. Two challenges that have remained constant throughout this time is usability and affordability (or lack thereof) of cargo drones for shorter range deliveries, i.e., under 25 kilometers. This lack of usability and affordability has prevented dozens of projects from taking off across the Flying Labs network. This explains why the vast majority of our cargo drone projects to date have used unconventional delivery drones, i.e., data collection drones that they have repurposed into cargo drones. Despite the challenges that do come with repurposing, doing so still goes a long way to keeping complexity and costs low while also enabling operators to use the same easy-to-use drone for data collection and delivery, thus increasing the services they can offer with the same drone. As such, instead of trying to build the full drone stack for delivery, they have decided to focus on building one layer, a versatile cargo drone add-on designed to work with existing industrial drones. And while the M300 costs more than the M600’s, the M300 remains more affordable than most commercially available cargo drones. The M300 is backed by a $15 billion company, which means they can expect the M300 to still be around in 5 years, just like the M600 has.
The company's strong interest in the M300 cargo drone does not mean this drone will serve all delivery needs. They’re focusing on short-range deliveries to strengthen long-term local expertise in drone delivery, whereas the drone delivery industry’s leading players are designing their drones for 60km-300km range deliveries.
Last but not the least, their key focus is on Flying Labs. The vast majority of over 30 Flying Labs around the world are keen to use delivery drones for public health and other social good opportunities. Enabling them to have access to M300 cargo drones will go a long way to democratizing cargo drone technology, enabling local experts to drive the application of cargo drone technology themselves, such as delivering the life-saving vaccines to rural communities.