EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: First Nation Tribe signs up for Drone Delivery for Vaccines

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Drones are going to be used to help deliver medical supplies including vaccines to the remote villages of Vanuatu.  The just signed contract allows for the drones to be able to make two deliveries per day with the ability to fly up to 100 km and carry up to 2.5 kg worth of supplies.

Initially the drones would be controlled from the largest villages on each island, but there was potential for them to be controlled from anywhere in the world using an ipad, Eric Peck, CEO of SwoopAero said.

“Our service will allow a health worker in a village to send us a text message and we can respond on demand, and sent the correct number of vaccines directly and in most cases we can be there in under an hour,” said Peck.

“It can be challenging transporting goods, especially during this time of year, when the river is freezing,” Moose Cree First Nation spokesman Paul Chakasim told the BBC in a recent interview.

“It’s really about trying to service communities that lack infrastructure, where basic goods are very difficult to obtain, and when you can obtain them, it is very, very expensive,” the head of Drone Delivery Canada (DDC) Tony Di Benedetto told Canadian broadcaster CBC.

Stan Kapashesit, Moose Cree First Nation’s director of economic development, told the BBC: “It’s designed to be affordable and quick, and also part of the goal is to create employment for our community members.”

Eventually, Mr Kapashesit hopes the drone technology will also help them to create a “railway in the sky” connecting the geographically disperse communities.  “The possibilities are open now,” he said.

Drone Delivery as a segment that is increasing important for both critical goods such as medical supplies or for consumer goods by major providers such as Amazon  here, and Google here.

We caught up with Eric Peck the founder and CEO of Swoop Aero one of the two companies contacted for the delivery.


Swoop Aero Interview with Eric Peck:

DroneLife is interviewing Eric Peck who is the CEO of Swoop Aero which is one of the two companies that are being hired to deliver vaccines to the remote villages of Vanuatu.

DroneLife:  Delivering vaccines to remote villages seem like a great application for a drone.  What aspects of this delivery made it a good fit for drones?

Eric Peck: Vanuatu is a volcanic island archipelago nation, with over 60 inhabited islands, which stretches almost 1000km end to end. Only a handful of the inhabited islands have functions roads or an airport, so the infrastructure, terrain, and environmental challenges make it difficult to transport medical supplies across or between the islands. Using the free space in the air above us is an newly available solution, where the rapid advancement in the core technology needed to make small unmanned airborne systems a reality has enabled us to develop a way to leverage autonomous aircraft to overcome the challenges.

DroneLife:  For our readers what might not be familiar, can you tell us a little about Swoop Aero?

Eric Peck: Swoop Aero is a venture capital backed company based in Melbourne, Australia. Our core offering is safe, reliable, and cost effective autonomous airborne transport. The company was founded in 2017 by myself and Josh Tepper; I spent the better part of a decade in the Roaal Australian Air Force where I flew the Hercules as a pilot, and Josh has a strong background in industrial automation as a robotics engineer, and has consulted on UAV development for several years. We founded Swoop Aero on the idea that people everywhere have a right to access basic medical services, and we believed we had the right combination of skills to build an operating model that could safely, reliably, and cost effectively connect people to  what they need. Our mission is to redefine Healthcare with Airborne Mobility.

DroneLife:  How did you get involved in this application?

Eric Peck: We came across some news of the Vanuatu Ministry of Heath droner trial run in 2016. That trial was ultimately unsuccessful, and the Ministry and Unicef made a decision to have a second run at it, because there is a clear demand to improve access to healthcare. After engaging with the Ministry, the Unicef Vanuatu field office, and making a scouting visit to Vanuatu, we decided that it was the right market application for what we wanted to do at Swoop Aero, and shifted our R&D focus to meet the needs of Pacific Island operations. The contract was the first competitive commercial contract for drone transport services ever released, so we needed to compete with companies globally, prove our technical capability to deploy a solution, and finally run a series of Demonstration flights for the Vanuatu Government and Unicef to prove it was actually possible.

DroneLife:  How had this been done previously?

Eric Peck: Typically, the vaccines are moved between the villages by the nurses on the islands. In some cases, they have to walk for over a day on small tracks through the jungle between villages to transport the vaccines. It’s a tough gig, I got out to the islands and walked the tracks myself in late November; in some parts its almost climbing the mountains are so steep. The reality is that we can replace a 12 hour walk with a 25 minute flight, and allow the nurses to spend more time working with the community.

DroneLife:  Do you use your own hardware and software?  If not, what are you using and why?

Eric Peck: We combine commercially available or open source hardware and software, and slot in our own technology when its needed. Our core technology is a combination of design, hardware, and software. This approach has allowed us develop a platform that pushes the envelope in terms of payload, range, and autonomy very quickly.

DroneLife:  What were the unusual challenges does this application present?

Eric Peck: In Vanuatu, we are flying Beyond Visual Line of Sight missions of over 100km, below 500 feet AGL, in volcanic terrain, without supporting infrastructure, and need to put the aircraft in a 5*5 meter box in the middle of the village at the receiving end. Our system needs to be able to cope with the environmental effects of the terrain. Unpredicted rain, heavy turbulence, hot air temperature, high humidity, a salty environment, and mountain rotors are all issues we have to account for in designing the system at a strategic level, and take into consideration when setting planning parameters.

DroneLife:  Assuming success,  where do you see this going?

Eric Peck:  Our aim is to improve access to services for people who are limited by the infrastructure around them or the geography they live in. We would like to see a world where everyone has access to the basic medical services most people take for granted, and we think that Swoop Aero can play a role redefining the medical supply chain. In Vanuatu specifically, we would like to see every Island supported by an airborne mobility solution to improve services to the people, and create local jobs.




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