Drone operators have flown enough flights over the water from the town of Fraser Lake to nearby Stellaton First Nation in northern British Columbia, a milestone in unlocking the potential of unmanned aircraft to deliver medicine to remote communities. can be crossed.
The 500 flights he has made to transport Canada so far as part of a research project led by BC’s Faculty of Medicine have proved that the aircraft are safe enough to operate beyond an observer’s line of sight.
Dr. John Pavlovich, lead researcher at UBC, said of Transport Canada’s approval for its operating partner, Drone Delivery Canada, to fly beyond an observer’s point of view in their five-kilometer flights, “It’s a big deal in itself.” is victory.”
“It is not a heroic geographic distance by any stretch, and it was never intended,” said Pavlovich, chair in rural health and a clinical professor in the Faculty’s Department of Family Medicine.
The pilot project, launched in October, aimed only to prove that drones could safely carry small medical payloads — prescriptions, medical-testing materials, test samples — from the takeoff spot to a near Stellaton Health Center. to the landing pad.
Making deliveries over long distances isn’t possible yet, Pavlovich said, but the project is about “going on this job literally and metaphorically up the mountain and to places that are far away.”
The drone in commercial service with DDC, Sparrow, can carry a payload of four kilograms with a range of 20 kilometres. However, the company has a full-size autonomous helicopter in development that is intended to carry 180 kg to 200 km.
“In an ideal world, we would want to fly to the maximum extent,” said CEO Steve Magiris. “Not all customers need the full range, but you can see the benefits of it” flights beyond visual range of vision.
Magiris said technicians maintain the drones on site, but they are flown remotely by operators at the DDC’s Vaughan, Ontario, headquarters, along GPS-guided routes, usually with observers placed every two kilometers.
“So if you can get by (beyond visual-range) for longer routes, it’s a game changer in terms of the capabilities it opens up,” Magiris said.
For Pavlovich, this could mean flights to Takla Landing, which is actually a remote community 200 kilometers north of Fraser Lake, or from Prince Rupert to Haida Gwaii.
The pilot project was conceived to see if drones could be used to reduce some of the inequalities facing rural and remote communities in the delivery of health care.
“This is where things are needed, will drones be able to help fill some of the void of trying to move things on land” or water, Pavlovich said.
The baby steps now being taken continue to prove the ability of drones to deliver and refine the challenges of having drones deliver on one side, then receive on the other, and deliver to health centers or homes.
Partners in the project include Stellton Nation, Fraser Lake, Northern Health Region, Carrier Sekani Family Services, where Pavlovich is also Medical Director, LifeLabs and First Nations Health Authority.
Pawlovich said, “There’s so much to integrate it all together from start to finish, not unlike what you do when you order something from your computer and magically, Amazon delivers it to your door.” ” “Many things happen that you don’t know about.”
Project manager Sandy Lee said the first phase of the test project established a workflow for delivery using a demonstration payload, then moving on to methods of delivery of temperature-controlled laboratory samples, emergency supplies and even blood products. Some graduated to drug delivery with K’s trial.
So far, the project has been a “bit-running process”, as there are things the team can control, but also things they cannot control, such as staff turnover in pharmacies.
The pilot project, funded by a $750,000 private grant, is expected to last only one year, but Pavlovich hopes it will produce results that can be built upon.
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