Joel Ifill

Dash Systems, CEO

Category of Humanitarian Benefit: Disaster Relief and Recovery

Short Biography/Background of the Nominee: “I’m a pacifist by nature, and the only job I could get was making smart bombs,” he says. “I literally just felt terrible every day going to work to make missiles that I knew were going to be headed straight to Iraq and Afghanistan. So that’s really what inspired me. What really can we do with this technology?”

Project Name and Description: Building the World's First Civilian Air Drop Network DASH Systems enables ultra precise cargo delivery anywhere in the world by using proprietary autonomous delivery vehicles launched from commercial aircraft. Built upon decades of aerospace engineering expertise to deliver a package delivery platform that has unrivaled performance, cost and range. This is so much more than drone delivery. DASH is a new concept in Air shipping. Marrying aerospace engineering expertise built on a cutting edge UAV backbone. DASH Systems unlocks the capability for any cargo airplane to deliver a package direct to the ground without the need for airports, runways or landings. Allowing deliveries in remote, rural, or areas inaccessible by any other method. Today's commercial airplanes can cross continents and fly above the harshest weather. However for most of the world a suitable airport is not close by. This leads to unequal cost, service and availability of air cargo deliveries. The DASH Hypothesis is simple; land the package, not the plane. They air launch one-way delivery drones to reach the most remote and under served communities.

By landing the package and not the plane, the ability to deliver any package anywhere is just as fast and cost effective as delivering to Los Angeles or New York, be it Africa, Canada, Alaska and other remote and hard to access locations. Cost, complexity, regulations and performance limitations are all barriers to entry for autonomous delivery, while weather, infrastructure, availability and safety are the barriers air deliveries face today. DASH Systems sidesteps all of these hurdles by vastly improving the capability of cargo aircraft while vastly reducing the cost of delivery drones. They turn every airplane in the world into a mobile drone launch platform, capable of delivering one to one thousand packages without ever landing or stopping. They take credit for the vast infrastructure and capability of cargo aircraft today. One 737-800 outfitted with DASH delivery drones can service thousands of customers and cover thousands of square miles in a single day.
Plan Air Drop Missions
Understanding the physics, rules and regulations and requirements of air drop systems is not simple. The DASH Mission Planner is designed from the ground up to increase the success, accuracy and ease in performing civilian airdrops. The easy to use interface can be integrated with multiple mapping solutions to provide satellite, hybrid or street maps and a simple point and click interface to plan out the air drop mission. One click allows the evaluation of any location for air drop missions and assistance with creating and submitting flight plans for pilots. No difficult training or expertise necessary to setup and evaluate air drops for anyone. By combing air drop calculations with a mapping solution, one can quickly determine the suitability of a location for an air drop operation and compliance with aviation regulations. Wind vector may be input or calculated in real time to compensate for drifting. All information may be output as GPS coordinates for quick entry into navigation systems or communication with ground crew.

Real Time Mission Monitoring
Real Time sensors collect various information including GPS, aircraft orientation and ground speed to determine all parameters relevant to an airdrop mission. Drop light logic will not allow an airdrop unless all parameters are within the specification set by the recipient. They prevent missed drops and location confusion and packaging failure due to not following proper procedure. Reduce pilot training by having drop information calculated and displayed in real time requiring only the ability to fly through a final approach similar to any landing.

Humanitarian Benefit: This Disposable Delivery Drone Goes Where Others Cannot Plastic foam, plywood and some other plastic parts could make the difference between life and death. VOA News reports that these are the materials that make up a delivery drone created by DASH Systems. The California company also describes its lightweight aircraft as an unmanned aerial vehicle or glider. It can be used to deliver up to 20 kilograms of food, medicine or other essential supplies to people in need in areas that traditional shipping and delivery companies cannot reach. And because it’s made of low-cost materials, it’s disposable, so there is no worry about getting it back. “Many times, we found that during times of crisis or humanitarian need, it’s very, very difficult to get supplies into remote regions,” said Joel Ifill, chief executive officer and co-founder of DASH Systems. The system’s aim is targeted, precision delivery. There is a built-in Global Positioning System device that provides enough accuracy to land the vehicle in the courtyard of a hospital. The DASH Systems delivery drone will go to places too dangerous or remote for other global shipping services such as FedEx or DHL. “So, for instance, a delivery in South Sudan or Puerto Rico — oftentimes every traditional carrier will say no. Organizations are willing to pay the fair market value for those trips. They just do not have the solution,” said Ifill. Ifill thought of this solution while working on smart bombs at a previous job. “Actually, I felt bad about essentially making technology that was designed to harm and kill people. So, I wondered what else could I do with the technology of a smart bomb, something that can launch from an airplane and land within inches. And I thought, ‘Why can’t I use that same technology to deliver packages and goods?’ “ DASH Systems says its unmanned glider is unlike other methods of delivery to remote places that have been developed thus far.

Three weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, aid workers were still struggling to deliver supplies like water and medicine–bad roads, fuel shortages, and downed power lines made it difficult to get anywhere on the island, some remote areas were still completely inaccessible. When Ifill read about the challenges in areas where bridges were washed away and roads were impassable, he decided to make a trip to the island. Joel Ifill and his team dropped care packages to people in inaccessible areas. They were granted emergency authorization from the FAA to make the flights. “Our specialty is we have some software running off my laptop that helps us plan out where to do deliveries, compensate for wind, and gives us a satellite map overhead so we know where we are and can confirm our deliveries.” The need in some areas was acute. People on one side were screaming for help–and while those on the other side could see and hear them, there was no way to reach them. Some roads wouldn’t be fully cleared for weeks. “The federal government has a lot of capacity, but there’s always people who fall through the cracks, and we couldn’t sit by,” Ifill


Ifill and his team delivered water, food, first aid supplies, diapers, and other necessities flew from Minnesota to San Juan. Volunteers repackaged the items for the parachute drops, targeting some of the hardest to reach areas on the island. “We wanted to make sure that it’s going to the most dire areas where they really need clean water and supplies,” Ultimately, Dash, can make similar deliveries in disaster situations on a larger scale. The company’s one-way delivery drones can be deployed from planes flying overhead, making it possible to reach areas even when planes can’t land, and sidestepping backlogs at ports (in Puerto Rico, around 10,000 shipping containers of emergency supplies were stranded temporarily at the port after Hurricane Maria because bad roads, a lack of fuel, and other challenges meant that many trucks couldn’t make deliveries).

The system is designed to launch packages from a plane’s cargo doors or from “cargo pod” doors next to a plane’s wheels, and then use GPS and small fins to land within a few meters of a destination. A computer controller will launch the packages in much the same way that bombs launch from military planes–something that Ifill previously worked on for the government when he graduated during the height of the recession and couldn’t find another job in engineering.