Canada testing drone delivery for COVID-19 test kits in remote areas

Drone delivery

A pilot project is being conducted in the Rocky Mountains, testing drone delivery for COVID-19 test kits in a remote area in the province of Alberta.

Drones are being tested to see whether or not they are viable for delivering medical supplies and personal protective equipment to remote areas in Canada.

The University of Calgary, Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT), Alberta Precision Laboratories and Alberta Health Services (AHS) is testing drone deliveries in three reserves that are part of the Stoney Nakoda First Nation.

The SDO-50V2 drone was manufactured by Switzerland-based UAV company SwissDrones, which specializes in the development, manufacturing and deployment of unmanned helicopters for use in critical aerial applications.

The SDO-50V2 can carry up to 45kg with more than 3 hours of flight time. It’s first delivery was made to the Morley Reserve, more than 60kms west of Calgary.

Wade Hawkins of SAIT’s Centre for Innovation and Research in Unmanned Systems and Dr. John Conley, medical director of the Cumming School of Medicine‘s Research and Innovation Centre led the pilot project.

“We’ve even had interest from the World Health Organization (WHO). They’re actually a funder now and they’re interested in seeing what we can do,” Hawkins told Bill Graveland of the Canadian Press. “They’re interested in some of the countries in Africa, primarily for delivery of medical supplies, but also COVID testing … (and) delivery of mobile medical equipment.”

“We think that the sky is the limit, literally, for this type of technology, marrying drones with medical supply delivery,” Dr. Conly told the Canadian Press. “We’re just priming ourselves for what could be a great delivery service. My vision is we create a drone army that would be supplemental to the medical care that we deliver.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) has expressed interest in the project, which is also testing smaller drones to send medical equipment like portable ultrasound devices directly to patients in hard to reach areas.

Ryan Robb, Stoney Nakoda CEO said that he sees the project paving the way to providing better healthcare to more isolated reserves.

“We could see this being used to deliver medicine. We still have many people on our reserve where I can’t drive to their house unless I’m in a four-wheel drive,” Robb told the Canadian Press. “We would like to be cutting edge, too. These aren’t the same drones your kids are playing with.”

Dr. Aurang Khan, Stoney Health Services CEO, also thought that drones would have a key role in improving the delivery of healthcare to remote communities across Canada, including delivery of COVID-19 test kits.

“Having this technology to be able to deliver personal protective equipment and swabs and testing kits to the health centre … is really going to improve the outcome for our community members in terms of health,” Dr. Khan told the Canadian Press. “We can easily summon the drone and have all the swabs loaded on to it and sent to the provincial lab at Foothills Hospital (in Calgary) and we’ll get the results in a very short time.”


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