An aviation firm has carried out the first tests in India of drone deliveries at long ranges, in a step towards one day delivering medicines as well as COVID vaccines to remote areas.
India, with a population of 1.3 billion people spread across some 3.2 million square kilometres is the world’s seventh-largest country by land mass. Experts say that widespread use of drones could be a game-changer for medical services in the South Asian nation’s hard-to-reach rural areas with often poor roads and lack of healthcare infrastructure.
Drones are a cost-effective alternative to road transport in difficult terrains. They can be used in the transport of blood from the blood bank to the place of surgery and that of specimens from hard-to-reach areas to the labs in nearby towns. They can deliver essential medicines like anti-venom for snake bite and dog bite and prevent deaths.
Throttle Aerospace Systems is among 20 organisations granted permits by the government since May to conduct experimental flights beyond the current limit of 450 metres.
Two drones were tested in the southern state of Karnataka: one that can carry up to one kilogramme for 20 kilometres for nearly an hour, and another that can lift two kilogrammes for 15 kilometres.
“Medicines was the payload here and… 2.5 kilometres were covered in seven minutes and it delivered the medicines at the designated point and the drone returned,” Throttle’s co-founder, Sebastian Anto, told AFP at the test site.
This month the Indian government also invited bids from drone operators to help set up a pilot project for the delivering of medical supplies as it seeks to bolster its flagging COVID vaccination drive.
Samiran Panda, epidemiology chief of the Indian Council of Medical Research, told The Hindu daily newspaper that the technology could help innoculate priority groups in hard-to-reach places.
“We need smart vaccination instead of mass vaccination to stem an epidemic,” Panda told the newspaper last week.
However, India lags behind many other nations when it comes to drones both in terms of their uses and the regulatory framework.Under current regulations, they have to be flown in full view, or within 450 metres, of their operators on the ground.
In Germany, it is reported that researchers are testing drone prototypes that can track down disaster victims by their screams. In Australia, drones using artificial intelligence algorithms are being used to spot crocodiles and count koalas in rugged terrain.
“Drone technology would have a huge impact in those areas where emergency medicines and vaccines could be supplied,” co-founder of lobby group the Drone Federation of India, Vipul Singh, told AFP.
“Where it takes a few hours to travel 20-30 kilometres by road, whereas a drone can actually travel that distance in 10 to 15 minutes,” said Singh, also the co-founder of Bangalore-based Aarav Unmanned Systems.
Source: Medical Xpress