Israeli malaria-fighting startup Zzapp Malaria, a company that has developed a mobile app that utilizes AI to locate malaria hotspots, has been busy since winning the prestigious IBM Watson AI Xprize Competition in June.
The company’s technology has been implemented and tested across sub-Saharan Africa in pilots programs in Ghana, Tanzania, Zanzibar, and Ethiopia, as part of collaborations with local partners including municipalities, foundations, NGOs, and workplaces such as gold mines.
Zzapp has also recently embarked on an ambitious project to eliminate malaria from the African island country of Sao Tome and Principe within the next two years, thanks to a partnership with Israeli autonomous drone solutions platform Airobotics. As part of a USD 300,000 pilot project, Airobotics will provide Zzapp Malaria with a drone system to help locate stagnant water where mosquitos are likely to congregate in Sao Tome and Principe.
Airobotics and Zzapp Malaria “share the belief in harnessing advanced technology to solve real-world problems. Our system is based on cutting-edge artificial intelligence that operates even on unadvanced smartphones, with low battery consumption and in areas with limited internet connectivity,” Arnon Houri-Yafin, Zzapp Malaria co-founder and CEO, told NoCamels.
“Understanding that we need to integrate drones in our operations and that Airobotics is one of the world’s leading developers of automated drones, made it an easy choice,” he added.
Zzapp’s system analyzes satellite imagery and climate and topography data to predict the locations of mosquito hotspot breeding sites. Airobotics CEO Meir Kliner told NoCamels that his company will provide Zzapp with a system that includes a drone, a docking station, and different sensors. The system will generate geospatial data that will be transferred automatically via the internet or local networks to Zzapp’s platform for AI analytics.
The Airobotics system can provide aerial data such as maps and lidar scans, Kliner said. In addition, it can also supply video and thermal imaging for complete area awareness. It also includes smart docking technology to swap the drone’s sensors and batteries. The docking station also functions as a shelter and can protect the drone against extreme weather conditions.
“In essence, it brings a full data capturing ecosystem to support the eradication of malaria in the field,” Kliner said.
The Airobotics team will deploy its Optimus 1-EX unmanned aircraft (UA). The UA has a takeoff weight of 23 kg and can reach a maximum operating altitude of 400 feet above ground level, with a maximum cruise speed of 50 km per hour.
“Airobotics’ drones can collect high-quality and accurate data while operating in the difficult conditions of Africa’s tropical weather. The drones have video cameras, in addition to thermal and laser sensors that help detect water bodies that fieldworkers might miss,” Houri-Yafin said. “Airobotics’ system is also fully automated, which circumvents the need to train operators and ensures seamless flow of data from the drones to our system,” he added.
While there is no specific date for the start of this project, Houri-Yafin said that upon successful completion of the initiative, both teams will aim to scale up countrywide operations across the continent.
Founded in 2014 by Meir Kliner and Ran Krauss, and listed in the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange this year, Airobotics provides intelligence and drone-based solutions for inspection, security, threat detection, and emergency response. The firm works with private companies, governments, and public safety entities worldwide.
“The collaboration with Zzapp is a new life-saving domain and a new line of business in our public safety portfolio,” Kliner said. “We believe that our core technology will enhance Zzapp’s application, adding an automated data capturing device to feed fresh and accurate data.”
The two companies plan to work together to build mutual solutions that could scale up malaria eradication projects in more countries in the next five years. For instance, Zzapp Malaria intends to automate the use of Airobotics drones to spray mosquito breeding grounds. Airobotics CEO Kliner said the special spraying tools will be mounted on the company’s drone.
Malaria is a disease spread by the Anopheles mosquito. According to the World Health Organization, there are over 220 million malaria cases every year, causing over 400,000 deaths—67% of which are children under five years old. Nearly half of the world’s population is at risk of malaria, with the WHO African region accounting for almost 95% of the world’s malaria cases and deaths.
The Global Fund and the US government spend close to USD 2.5 billion annually on malaria control.
The article was originally published by NoCamels, a leading news website covering breakthrough innovation from Israel for a global audience.