Drones could soon help save lives in regional Australia

AT first you might think you’re caught up in a Sci-Fi movie but, in reality, drone technology will soon be trialled delivering life-saving medical supplies to remote parts of Australia.

grey quadcopter drone
Photo by Pok Rie on Pexels.com

Custom-made, start-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.

The project will be the first ever healthcare drone trial for regional Australia.

It will also pave the way for future delivery of critical items such as cold-storage vaccines (COVID-19) in regional and remote communities.

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The iMOVE Cooperative Research Centre, part of the Federal Government-funded CRC Program, revealed the development today.

The Northern Territory is one of the most sparsely 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.

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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 undergo specialist training.

The project will also 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 and 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 programs 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. 

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“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,” she 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,” she said.

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,” she said.

“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.”

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