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Enactus Students Prepare for Lift-Off of Project FlyLife

Ford Fund grant helps fuel medical delivery system in India

CHENGALPATTU, India— The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed vulnerabilities in communities around the world, from shortages of personal protective equipment to shortfalls in testing. The Enactus student team at the SRM IST, Chenna in India has been focusing its work on the delivery challenges facing businesses across the country with special attention to pharmaceutical and medical supplies. The effort, called Project Flylife, earned the team a grant in the Ford Fund COVID-19 College Challenge.

Red and white drone with feet of audience visible in background

Enactus SRM is a club consisting mostly of engineering students. It was one of 14 student teams from nine countries awarded grants for local projects linked to the fight against COVID-19. The winning teams from Brazil, Egypt, Eswatini, Ghana, India, Kenya, South Africa, the United Kingdom and United States were selected from more than 150 applications submitted by students with Enactus, an international network of young leaders dedicated to making the world a better place.

"Working with small businesses across India we came to identify logistics as a persistent problem because of the undesirable offerings and extremely high fees, even before the onset of COVID-19," said Manas Tuteja, student, Enactus SRM. "The pandemic, we believe, has posed a greater challenge to an already fragile service sector. It has majorly disrupted all supply chains, compelling organizations globally to change their business models to fit new constraints."

During the COVID-19 pandemic online sales of medicine have risen sharply despite unreliable delivery services. The Enactus SRM team is developing a purpose-oriented drone made for hospitals, emergency response and e-Pharmacies. Enactus SRM, with assistance from Team SPARS, the university’s unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) research club, expects the drone delivery system to be 90-percent automated and operated by a two-member crew that will deliver pharmaceuticals to customer doorsteps.

"Safe delivery of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies has become a 'super essential service' for survival, especially for COVID-19 positive, asymptomatic patients and individuals with co-morbidities," added Tuteja. "It feels good to do one's bit and join in the effort of combatting the virus."

Rendering of model airplane

Despite lockdown restrictions on physical work, manufacturing of a prototype is expected to begin this summer followed by testing. The technical team is also exploring potential alternate designs for a vertical take-off and landing drone, which is a hybrid version of a fixed-wing plane and a helicopter. The delivery service is expected to take flight in November at SRM Hospital in Chennai. FlyLife plans to offer drone-delivery free of cost at first, while a sustainable business model is developed. The team is expecting to expand and start selling its services by the end of next year.

"Ford Fund allowed the members in our club to not only help with the COVID-19 effort, but also ideate and execute technologically innovative ideas with an entrepreneurial mindset," added Tuteja. "We are glad they could see potential in Project FlyLife and grateful for their contribution and support."

The Ford Fund COVID-19 College Challenge is a global offshoot of the signature Ford College Community Challenge (C3). In partnership with Enactus, Ford Fund awards C3 grants to student-led teams that develop sustainable projects meeting an urgent community need, such as clean water, food or mobility. Originally launched in the United States in 2008, Ford C3 is now an international program that has distributed more than $3 million to support some 200 student-led social projects.

"Enactus students are highly motivated next generation leaders who are all about taking action for the greater good," said Farah Harb, global education analyst, Ford Fund. "Challenges such as this spark their creative thinking, resulting in innovations that benefit the entire community."

To learn more about Ford Fund's COVID-19 response and donation match program visit fordfund.org/covid19.