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UNICEF Offers $100k Innovation Fund for Drone Startups

A drone operated by Chief Air Traffic Controller Steve Mkandawire, one of five Civil Aviation certified pilots, takes off during a demonstration for residents in Thipa vllage, Kasungu District, Malawi, Thursday 29 June 2017. Thipa village is 19 kilometres from the nearest health centre in Dwangwa and the only way to get there is either by bicycle or walking for four hours. On 29 June 2017, the Government of Malawi and UNICEF launch an air corridor to test potential humanitarian use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones. The corridor is the first of its kind in Africa and one of the first globally with a focus on humanitarian and development use. It is centred on Kasungu Aerodrome, in central Malawi, with a 40 kilometre radius (80 kilometre diameter) and is designed to provide a controlled platform for the private sector, universities and other partners to explore how UAVs can be used to help deliver services that benefit communities. The UAV corridor will run for at least one year, until June 2018. Since the announcement in December 2016, 12 companies, universities and NGOs from around the world have applied to use the corridor. These include drone manufacturers, operators and telecom companies such as GLOBHE (Sweden) in collaboration with HemoCue and UCANDRONE (Greece), and Precision (Malawi), all of which were present at the launch to demonstrate connectivity, transportation and imagery uses respectively. UAV technology is still in the early stages of development. UNICEF is working globally with a number of governments and private sector partners to explore how UAVs can be used in low income countries. All projects adhere to a strict set of innovation principles, with a focus on open source and user-centred design.


UNICEF Offers $100k Innovation Fund for Drone Startups

Source: UNICEF

UNICEF Offers $100k Innovation Fund for Drone Startups


UNICEF has just announced that applications are now open for their new Innovation Fund for Drone Startups, which aims to deliver funding to tech startups who want to develop ‘drones for good’.

The fund, which was established to finance open-source technology developed to benefit children, has to date raised $US14.38million which it has invested in three areas: products for youth, infrastructure and real-time information.

Developers of software solutions, blockchain, AI and VR technology are just some examples of recipients that have benefitted from the funding so far, and now drone developers have their shot.

Examples of drone solutions that will be considered for funding are:

  • UAVs that collect, share and analyse data – this could involve data transmission over low-fi networks, AI or deep learning to identify and count features and objects or data management for stakeholders;
  • Software for the management or flight or delivery operations – this could include managing supply chain payments or quality of assets (eg temperature-sensitive medical supplies), optimising flight navigation or detecting features for landing or otherwise completing deliveries;
  • Business models or sustainable drone services for emerging markets – for example, new services implemented with existing drones such as imaging and analysis or combination of existing services into a multi-role application;
  • Systems that address air safety, risk management or unmanned traffic management (UTM) – this could include tools to simulate or predict altitude management, schedules, or routes, risk assessment, or an app to assist field operations or decision-making.

Seed funding of up to $US100,000 will be delivered to successful applicants, which will be made available for prototyping, testing and validation.

They will also receive technical assistance from the UNICEF Ventures team, as well as mentorship and support from their local UNICEF country offices.

Registration for an information webinar to find out more about how to apply for the Innovation Fund is now open, to be hosted by Michael Scheibenreif, UNICEF Drone Lead in Malawi.

Scheibenreif has previously overseen the development of a low-cost drone capable of an autonomous 19km flight in the Malawi drone corridor to deliver medical drugs, built by Malawi students under the auspices of Virgina Tech.

Testing of the successful applicant’s drones will also be conducted at the Malawi drone corridor, which was opened in 2017 to allow beyond-line-of-visual sight (BVLOS) testing of drones.

To apply, interested applicants must have an existing prototype, already be working or be willing to work with open source technologies and must be registered as a private company in a country that is participating in the UNICEF Innovation programme.

Existing prototypes must have a positive impact and display promising results from a preliminary pilot.

Applications are open until July 22, 2018 and can be submitted through the UNICEF Innovation Fund website.

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Cite this article as: Sarah Whittaker, "UNICEF Offers $100k Innovation Fund for Drone Startups," in, June 28, 2018,

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