Custom-made, state-of-the-art medical drones with a flying range of up to 250km will be developed and trialled for delivery of potentially life-saving medicines in the Northern Territory, Australia’s first ever healthcare drone trail for regional Australia. The project will also pave the way for future delivery of critical items such as cold-storage vaccines in regional and remote communities, according to developer iMOVE Cooperative Research Centre.
The Northern Territory (NT) is one of the most sparsely settled jurisdictions in the developed world with a significant Indigenous population living in remote communities. iMOVE is funding the project in partnership with the NT Government Department of Health and Charles Darwin University (CDU), who will manage the trial under Associate Professor Hamish Campbell. The project is already running with talks underway with manufacturers for suitable drone airframes capable of handling wet and dry seasons, and a maximum flying range of 250km. Leading drone services consultants Hover UAV, who have managed projects for Google and developed cutting-edge shark detection surveillance technology, are advising on the project. Drone pilots will soon be recruited and will undergo specialist training. The project will involve developing a drone test flight centre in the Northern Territory.
Key goals and milestones for the project include:
- Regular drone flights of up to 100km by the end of 2021;
- Regular drone flights of up to 250km & regular transport of medical items to and from remote communities by July 1, 2023;
- Further development into drone delivery of cold-chain items (COVID-19 vaccine).
iMOVE programmes director Lee-Ann Breger, a specialist in transformational R&D, conceived the project and was heavily involved in bringing together the necessary industry and government partners needed to undertake the project. “There are about 8 million people living in rural and remote parts of the country – that’s about a third of our population living in places where getting life-saving medical supplies is not only a race against time, but also a battle against the tyranny of distance, harsh landscapes and unpredictable elements,” Breger said. “Regional communities face medical access and health supply issues. This doesn’t have to be the case. We have the technology to put an end to this deprivation, especially in remote Northern Territory First Nations communities.”
Breger said one of the project’s main goals was to create an efficient model so drone health delivery services could eventually be rolled out in other regional locations across Australia. “We are looking at developing capacity and ways of doing things to ensure sustainability of this service beyond the lifetime of the project. It’s ground-breaking and important work, with significant benefits for millions of people who live in regional areas. Drones seem an obvious solution, a potential game-changer. In the not too distant future, if you see a drone flying overhead in the middle of nowhere there’s a fair chance that technology is on its way to help someone or even save their life,” Breger said.