How Swoop Aero reinvented commercial cargo aviation and saves lives

How was this content?

“I thought, it’s something different, it’s something challenging, and I love to challenge myself, so I went and gave it a shot.”

Medical science is constantly creating new treatments that are improving the lives of people all around the world, but these are of little value if they can’t get to where they are needed when they are needed.

Eric Peck had seen firsthand the impact that timely medical intervention could have in a person’s life. A former Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) pilot and veteran of two tours of duty in the Middle East, Peck had applied his piloting skills to humanitarian work in Southeast Asia, where he had come to understand the limitations of traditional medical logistics.

“One of the really interesting things we discovered was that the cost of healthcare is no longer really driven by the cost of the medication itself,” Peck says. “It is largely driven by the cost of transporting it to its final point of use.”

For Peck, much of that cost was tied up in the 70-tonne Hercules aircraft that was the workhorse of supply missions. Seeking a more economical solution, in 2017 he began researching the potential of autonomous drones in air transport. This search brought him into contact with mechatronics and robotics engineer Joshua Tepper, and the two began discussing ideas.

The result is Swoop Aero, a company that is not just revolutionizing medical supply deliveries, it is also changing the nature of commercial aviation.

“We thought the way to create a company was to take the 70-tonne Hercules that I used to fly, and my cofounder’s robotic engineering experience, and smash them together to build a 25kg 3D-printed autonomous aircraft, and then use software to automate all the processes that sit around the aircraft,” Peck says. “So instead of having 70 people looking after one aircraft, like we did when I flew the Hercules, we can have one person looking after 70 aircraft.

And that’s when Swoop Aero was born.”

Making a difference

The work required to build Swoop Aero has been significant, but Peck says he and the team were able to see the value of their efforts early, courtesy of its very first medical emergency delivery to a remote island in Vanuatu in December 2018.

“We got a call at 9:00 o’clock in the morning to say that a mother had just given birth, but was having post-birth complications and needed oxytocin,” Peck says. “The helicopter wasn't available to take her back to the main island, and if she had to catch a boat, it was nine hours to the hospital, there was a good chance she wouldn’t make it.”

Swoop Aero was able to deploy one of its drone aircraft with the medicine loaded onboard, and within 30 minutes it had reached the woman’s village.

“The medication was supplied, and the mother was fine,” Peck says. “That story really defines why we do what we do at Swoop Aero.”

A global aviation network in the cloud

Swoop Aero hasn’t just shrunk the plane down to the size of a lightweight drone – it has also shrunk down the entire process of managing a commercial freight aviation service into a cloud-based system that can be accessed from anywhere in the world.

One factor that has been critical to Swoop Aero’s success has been its use of the AWS Cloud, which provides the scalability of computing resources the company has needed as its data requirements have grown.

“It had to be a system that meant the aircraft could be operated from anywhere in the world with nothing more than an iPad,” Peck says. “By leveraging the AWS Cloud, we were able to build a data lake, full of all the flight data from every single one of the aircraft in our fleet, over the tens of thousands of flights that we have done all around the world.”

Now Swoop Aero pilots can operate drone aircraft from anywhere in the world, including one trial which saw a pilot in Australia operating a drone in Albania. The company’s next generation software will feature a complete digital twin of its aircraft, to further improve its operations.

“We are excited about a future where the infrastructure layer is in fact invisible – delivering supplies, moving products, and saving lives,” Peck says.

Taking off

Swoop Aero has now supplied medicine to more than 3.5 million people around the world, and has expanded its services to include mapping, search and rescue operations, and other deliveries.

As a founder, Peck says his background in the RAAF proved critical in giving him the confidence to pursue his vision, and he encourages any would-be founder to follow the same path.

“With everything I’ve done throughout my life, I’ve been very interested in doing things that are exceptionally hard,” Peck says. “I thought, it’s something different, it’s something challenging, and I love to challenge myself, so I went and gave it a shot.

“If you have a big idea and you are ready to make the jump, the one piece of advice that I would give you is to be fearless. You are going to have a lot of people say it is not possible, you are going to have a lot of doubts around whether you can do it, but you have to be fearless and move ahead to make it happen.”

AWS Services Used

Amazon S3

Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) is an object storage service offering industry-leading scalability, data availability, security, and performance.

Learn more »

Amazon EC2

Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) is a web service that provides resizable compute capacity in the cloud. It is designed to make web-scale cloud computing easier for developers.

Learn more »

Amazon Aurora

Amazon Aurora provides built-in security, continuous backups, serverless compute, up to 15 read replicas, automated multi-Region replication, and integrations with other AWS services.

Learn more »

AWS Data Transfer

This solution provides secure, scalable, and trackable data transfer for Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) objects and Amazon Elastic Container Registry (Amazon ECR) images.

Learn more »

How was this content?