A time unlike any other
Daniel Ronen (MBA, 2000) reflects on the impact of Covid-19 on businesses and how his organisation UAVaid, a pioneer in world-leading humanitarian drones, is supporting communities through the pandemic.
A time unlike any other. The scale and breadth of impact of the coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented in modern peacetime and is likely to have a consequential influence on our lives for some time to come.
The full extent of the human, social and economic costs will take time to materialise and comprehend, and for some, sadly, the losses will be irreplaceable.
The nature of the global response to the pandemic has been very much a product of the times. Had it occurred just 20 years earlier, before the mass adoption of mobile internet and broadband allowed for widespread working from home, online commerce and cross-border collaborative research, all in real time, the progression and outcomes could have been very different and arguably, even more severe.
As the pandemic has unfolded, we have seen organisations of all types and sizes shift into crisis-management and risk-mitigation modes, taking actions to try and deal with the immediate and potential impacts of this unexpected and largely unprepared-for event. There is strong evidence that as a result of the pandemic, decision-makers have placed an increased emphasis on strengthening embedded organisational resilience. This has included businesses re-evaluating their cost structures and supply chains, and governments increasing investments in life sciences and manufacturing capacity. It is likely that when time provides the perspective to look back on the impact of the pandemic, these changes will be viewed as just the tip of the iceberg and will be contextualised against a backdrop of numerous other geopolitical, environmental and social pressures. There remains a great deal of uncertainty about the lasting impact of the pandemic on swathes of our society as well as economy. As we start to look toward the ‘beginning of the end’ and emergence into a post-pandemic world, there remain many questions about what the ‘new normal’ will look like.
As Business School alumni, we will each have our own perspective on what this ‘new normal’ should look like and indeed may have a role in shaping it.
It is already clear that the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated a number of long-term trends. In particular there has been a sudden and rapid evolution in society’s ‘digital transformation’, coupled with a corresponding increase in our dependence on technology. Many sectors have experienced a leap forwards towards the so-called ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ (Industry 4.0). In specific industries, the pandemic appears to have converged both supply availability (key technologies reaching levels of maturity suitable for scaling) and demand (driven by resource restrictions and the need for time-sensitive product and service delivery) at a time when regulators and governments themselves are urgently looking for solutions to the problems being faced. Governments have come under intense pressure to deliver solutions to the crisis and not be seen as ‘part of the problem’. As a result of these demands and increased scrutiny, many (public) institutions have introduced innovations to streamline their processes, increase capacity and/or improve response times. In some cases, this has had a dramatic effect on outcomes and is well exemplified by the success of the UK’s COVID-19 vaccination programme and the fast-tracking approach adopted by the UK Civil Aviation Authority to COVID related applications.
Reflecting this, my own industry, unmanned aviation aka ‘drones’, has experienced a rapid acceleration in its development as a result of the pandemic response. In appropriate applications and settings, drones offer significant advantages over traditional methods for remote sensing and/or delivery logistics, especially in areas of challenging ground terrain. By achieving safe and flexible flight with sufficient lift to carry useful payloads, new generations of drones are able to provide the speed and reach advantages of aerial platforms, without the cost and resource footprint required by traditional manned aviation. Although drones have for some time been identified as a potential solution to a wide range of challenges, the acute time-sensitivity of the pandemic has accelerated both social acceptance and regulatory engagement with the technology, while innovators have become more tightly aligned with the pressing demands of operational scaling. This convergence will form the backbone of drone adoption in the coming period and exemplify the accelerative impact of the pandemic on the evolution of specific innovation-based industries.
UAVaid Ltd was co-founded in 2014 by myself and my brother James (a graduate of the University of Nottingham Faculty of Engineering) with the express aim of developing ‘drone’ technology to help isolated and disadvantaged communities in the developing world and those suffering in the aftermath of large-scale disasters. Since then, we have successfully developed the HANSARD system. This multi-role drone, which resembles a small aeroplane, is capable of long-range cargo delivery, high resolution mapping and live aerial surveillance. It is the culmination of an extensive multi-national collaboration and will support a wide range of applications in remote and global development contexts. These include medical delivery logistics to remote areas, agriculture (NDVI and visual) mapping, infrastructure surveying, animal protection (anti-poaching), fisheries protection and climate change mitigation. The system has been successfully deployed internationally and during a particular programme in Malawi, we set a number of records for drone aerial delivery, integration with local healthcare supply chains and working with multiple agencies, including the Rangers on anti-poaching patrol.
We are currently preparing for a number of programmes utilising the HANSARD drone to support the ongoing COVID-19 response and post-pandemic recovery. Our focus remains primarily in Africa, where we expect to reinforce medical supply chains and support a sustainable economic recovery through the use of remote sensing for agriculture, infrastructure development and environmental protection.
For advances in unmanned aviation, the Royal Aeronautical Society presented UAVaid Ltd with the 2020 Team Specialist Award. Further, for my associated work supporting diversity, inclusion and equality, I was honoured with the Verena Winifred Holmes Award 2020 by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. More information about UAVaid and its work in supporting communities in the developing world can be found at www.UAVaid.com.
Daniel Ronen is a graduate of the University of Nottingham MBA programme. He is also a Chartered Engineer, Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, elected Member of the Royal Aeronautical Society and Honorary Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Manchester Alliance Manchester Business School.