An Israeli startup has developed an autonomous long-distance unmanned aerial vehicle that will fly medical supplies to all major Israeli hospitals across the country.
Rehovot-based aero-logistics company Gadfin recently inked an exclusive five-year partnership agreement with Sarel, the country’s biggest medical purchasing and logistics company, to create the first aerial drone grid that delivers urgent medical supplies to Israeli hospitals within 200 kilometers.
“This will allow Israel to be the first country in the world that will have such a fast supply of urgent medical supplies to all the hospitals around the country from one center, which will end up saving lives,” Eyal Regev, founder and CEO of Gadfin, told The Times of Israel. “Within three years we plan to have the full aerial drone network to deliver medical supplies to 11 hospitals in Israel and we are also duplicating this network around the world.”
Gadfin’s Spirit-One hydrogen-powered UAV can deliver payloads of up to five kilograms (11 pounds) in a 30-liter (eight-gallon) cargo compartment to locations up to 200 kilometers (124 miles) away without needing to change batteries. The drone can fly 100 kilometers per hour (62 mph). It can withstand strong winds and rainy weather and has folding wings to land in narrow places. Loading and unloading of packages is fully automated.
Under the terms of the $5 million contract with Sarel, within three years the aerial grid will deploy 18 Spirit One air vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cell technology that will make 60 deliveries a day, or 21,000 deliveries a year.
The contract will allow Sarel to ensure a constant supply of medical equipment, medicines, vaccines, blood, serum, lab samples and more, across Israel, at less than one hour from call, the two companies said in a statement. The Spirit One air-vehicle can also carry inside its cargo bay a standard cooled medical supply package at up to a temperature of minus 80 degrees Celsius allowing for the delivery of organs, according to Regev.
“This partnership with Gadfin, utilizing its breakthrough technology, will allow Sarel to be the first medical logistics company in the world to allow [for the delivery of] nationwide, on-demand, immediate lifesaving equipment and supply, regardless of traffic, while reducing inventory and waste due to expired medical supplies,” said Sarel CEO Avi Buskila.
Gadfin has a permit from the Israeli Civil Aviation Authority for urban airspace deliveries but still needs other regulatory passes, including from the Health Ministry and the Israeli Air Force. The Spirit One aircraft is equipped with an automatic parachute system for emergency situations to meet regulatory safety standards for flying drones over populated areas.
Starting in November 2023, Gadfin’s Spirit One will commence with three pickups a day from the roof of Sarel’s Netanya-based logistics center to deliver medical supplies to Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya, 100 kilometers away, for a period of six months.
“The first operational delivery line will be by far the longest drone delivery line in the world,” remarked Regev.
Regev, a former senior manager at Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) involved in the development of large-scale UAV systems, founded Gadfin in 2018 and built a team of former Israeli Air Force officers, electrical engineers, and aerospace industry experts.
Earlier this year, former deputy head of the Mossad and former head of the IDF’s Northern Command Major-General (Res.) Amiram Levin made a “significant” investment in the company and joined Gadfin’s board of directors as an overseer. Former commander of the Israeli Air Force Maj. Gen. (res.) Eitan Ben-Eliyahu also serves on Gadfin’s board of directors. In May, Gadfin closed a $7 million Series A funding round, led by Southern Israel Bridging Fund (SIBC), GEHR Cooperation, and other investors.
Talking about Gadfin’s global expansion plans, Regev said that the company is involved in projects in the UK and Italy, and is developing a larger aircraft with a 500-kilometer flight range carrying up to 150 kilograms.
“We are working on a second generation, the Spirit X, which we expect to be operational in the beginning of 2025,” said Regev. “If what we are doing in Israel will work here satisfactorily, it will be a model to duplicate abroad, in countries in Europe and especially in third world countries.”
Looking ahead to the next five years, Regev expects Gadfin to win at least 10 projects similar to the contract with Sarel or bigger, which could be worth as much as $50 million per contract.