Gulliver - Tracking Pharmaceuticals

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Space based system for pharmaceutical logistics service in remote regions.

Objectives of the service

The GULLIVER feasibility study aims at assessing the added value of space assets in securing the delivery of pharmaceutical goods. For that purpose, Novacom Services has fostered the creation of a wide community of experienced users covering the end-to-end distribution chain. Navigation, Telecommunication and Earth Observation's applicability will be tested against the daily requirements of those stakeholders. All along the course of this Study, we shall keep in mind that the main objectives are to define relevant services and set the grounds for the next phase: a field demonstration project.

Users and their needs

The end users in this project are the large pharmaceutical companies on the one side, the users of pharmaceuticals (NGOs) on the other side, and the insurance companies in the middle.

Pharmaceutical companies:

  • Sanofi-Aventis
  • Roche
  • Johnson & Johnson


  • ICRC
  • WHO
  • MSF
  • UnitAid
  • CHAI Liberia
  • The Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease
  • Global Fund


  • AXA

Some shipping companies are also involved in the project as consultants, helping the project to benefit from their knowledge in terms of transportation, cold chain, customs, difficulties, etc:

  • MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics
  • GEFCO Ukraine
  • CEVA Logistics
  • Sandler & Travis Trade Advisory Services

Zaragoza Logistics Center (ZLC) - a research institute established by the Government of Aragon in Spain in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Zaragoza  - also supports with their experience and contacts in humanitarian projects and pharmaceutical transports.

  • The first demand is for the products to arrive in good condition. Receiving a damaged or expired product is useless and could even be dangerous. Donors want to be sure that their delivery will reach its destination and avoid having to pay for a new delivery because the previous one was unsuccessful.
  • From the moment the order has been passed, donors and recipient do not communicate on the delivery and consider the shipment as a "black box" until the reception of the product or the next order. Tracing delivery on a common tool would help donors and recipients to communicate (on departure, quantity, estimated arrival of the delivery).
  • Warehouses need to maintain their stocks, knowing where the closest supplies are, when goods are available, for how long, etc so that they can organize their own distribution and orders.

Service/ system concept

GNSS tracking solutions are getting more and more common in goods transportation, with lower costs and higher accuracy in terms of location. It seems clear that their use on high value goods like pharmaceutical products would bring a lot of benefits. Tracking systems:

  • can give an estimated time of arrival to the recipients.
  • can warn the shipper immediately if his freight is endangered.
  • can tell the shipper if his freight is not usable any more, so that he does not spend more effort, time and fuel on transporting a spoilt product.
  • can warn the donor when a cargo is not usable any more, so that he can prepare for a new delivery.

Space Added Value

In remote regions, space communications are helpful to compensate for the lack of terrestrial networks. They're also necessary to help roaming between countries and seas over large areas.

Space based positioning is necessary to get a precise location of a shipping vehicle, without having to rely on reference points in large areas and sometimes mountanious landscapes.

Product Features

The delivery of drugs in remote areas of the world has particularities compared to more common logistic supply chains:

The products within each delivery are very valuable, expensive and sensitive to outside conditions.

Lead-time before delivery is about 4 - 6 months (instead of a couple of days or weeks), due to: 

  • the large number of parties involved in a delivery
  • delays at customs
  • wide distances on poor roads

The availability of a cold chain is a ubiquitous issue. Temperature sensitive products are often replaced by lesser quality products when the cold chain cannot be respected (in 90 % cases).

Due to lack of visibility in delivery, recipients have difficulties to manage their stocks to avoid oversupply or shortage.

On the other side, donors do not know when (nor if) their supply has reached the destination.

Expected Main Benefits:

The following key benefits are expected from the service:

For donors, benefits in terms of reputation and trust:

  • no drug recalls caused by problems during transport, counterfeit or exceeded product shelf-life,
  • be sure that drugs are not stolen to be resold locally.

For recipients, no oversupply nor shortage, better visibility, more frequent and smaller orders.

For insurances, easier identification of responsible party and decrease of loss with the help of best practices.

For NGO's and similar organisations: better traceability and keeping their donors' confidence.


Key Issues

The key issues to be tackled by the project are:

  • Transports deviating outside allowed temperature thresholds.
  • Lack of visibility and coordination between supplier and end user.
  • Damage because of handling of ship rolling.
  • Lack of electricity in remote areas. Lack of network (road and communication).
  • Counterfeits.

Current Status

The Feasibility Study was finished in July. It has shown that there is a substantial potential market for Gulliver and that the solution proposed is technically feasible.

Novacom Services is already working on the full proposal for a follow-up demo project to Gulliver. This project will create an operational pilot to be deployed in an actual pharmaceutical supply chain to validate and refine the service concept and verify the technical design.

Status Date

Updated: 03 July 2012 - Created: 15 February 2014