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MIT students from Norway working on autonomous drones for medical delivery pick $2.3M funding

The Covid-19 pandemic spurred an immediate need to develop new, innovative systems in supply chains and infrastructure. Also, it was the moment when technology, innovation, and preparation met opportunity came together for the founders of autonomous drone delivery service Aviant.

In a recent development, the Trondheim-based startup Aviant has raised $2.3 million in a seed funding round. The investment was led by Luminar Ventures (which backed Vibrant) with participation from Bring Ventures, co-founders, employees and existing investors. Bring Ventures is the venture arm of the Norwegian Postal Service and Bring is currently testing drone transport with one of its existing customers, giving Air Mail a whole new meaning.

According to Aviant, “One client, operating in Norway and Sweden, benchmarked against a much more well-funded competitor and found Aviant to outperform dramatically. Competing drones literally fell into the ocean at that temperature.”

An idea born at MIT

Aviant was born at MIT in 2020. Lars Erik Matsson Fagernæs, Bernhard Paus Græsdal, and Herman Øie Kolden were all students at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) but only met after they arrived on the MIT campus for their ASP in 2019.

They had always been working on a drone-related project and pivoted to the idea of making a drone to transport biological samples. Initially, they offered up a drone-based response to the global pandemic, flying biological samples between hospitals in Norway and Sweden. The project quickly expanded far beyond the company’s initial use case, adding the transportation of blood samples, milk samples, water samples, and even spare parts to wind turbines to its roster. They chose a fixed-wing quadcopter design that combines vertical takeoff and landing with efficient long-distance travel.

Their prototype drones were built at MIT and tested in the Johnson Athletic Center around its running track.

Drones for medical delivery

Aviant’s hybrid variant offers vertical takeoff, an advantage that the company claims to offer an increased range of up to 120 km. Aviant’s offerings have been tested and succeeded in their delivery missions in winds up to 18 m/s and temperatures as low as -26 degrees Celcius.

“Drones are up to 90% less costly because they’re autonomous, emit 95% less CO2, and much faster than car-based transportation. In my mind, there’s no question if they’ll be a part of the future transportation infrastructure, especially of lightweight cargo,” explained Aviant client Røros Hospital’ Jan Gunnar Skogås.

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