Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a drone carrying time-sensitive medical supplies to rural and remote hospitals and multipurpose facilities.
In conjunction with Swoop Aero, Darling Downs Health is exploring the implementation of a drone pilot program that will see dispatch hubs launched within the Health Service, delivering essential supplies, test samples and pharmaceuticals between facilities.
Executive Director of Infrastructure at Darling Downs Health, Dr Paul Clayton, said the pilot would be a first for Queensland, if not Australia.
“We’re really pushing the edge of medical innovation with this pilot and as far as we know, there isn’t another hospital or health service that is ready to implement a pilot like this or have something already in operation.”
“We’ve been talking to Swoop Aero for a number of years and to be in a position where we could implement this service by the end of 2022 is an incredible achievement.”
Traveling at speeds of up to 115km/h, the Swoop Aero drone would be dispatched from multiple hub locations and service the surrounding hospital and multipurpose facilities.
“We envisage utilising the likes of Goondiwindi, Dalby or Chinchilla, Kingaroy and Toowoomba as the hub locations that would then be used to fly different goods to our facilities, be unloaded, or released from the air and return back to base in a very timely manner.” Dr Clayton said.
CEO and Co-Founder of Swoop Aero, Eric Peck added that it was a great opportunity for communities.
“This collaboration with Darling Downs Health is a fantastic opportunity for communities across Queensland. We’re currently awaiting the outcome of an application for a federal grant from the Emerging Aviation Technology Partnerships (ETAP) program, which would help bring this service to fruition.”
“A large-scale pilot with Darling Downs Health will present life-changing opportunities to patients and communities and is in line with our goal of reaching 100 million people in 2025. The technology has already been successfully deployed across nine countries and three continents, delivering over 790,000 items” Mr Peck said.
The proposed pilot comes after a successful series of demonstrations in Goondiwindi recently which Darling Downs Health staff attended.
Dr Clayton said the demonstration reinforced that this technology is available, and proven.
“Swoop Aero has been delivering medical supplies with drones for quite a while now overseas and having seen them in action and talking to their staff on the ground, I am confident that the use of drones will provide better outcomes to the Health Service, patients and the community.” Dr Clayton said.
Australian Operations Manager for Swoop Aero Daniel Scandar said the drones are totally autonomous.
“The great thing about these drones is they are totally autonomous as they fly. Swoop Aero’s design and operational philosophy includes complete automation of the airborne system. Our strategic decisions are also able to be made and programmed prior to the aircraft being launched.”
“For example, we pre-plan the flight path, set altitude and speed and away we go. This mitigates the risk of human error through automation. If you think about the Darling Downs Health network, it’s almost like road design, once we have our main flight paths designed, we’ll continue to utilise that as our main highway in the sky and then have arterial paths connecting to different facilities or even directly to a patient at home.” Mr Scandar said.
While waiting for the outcome of the grant application, Darling Downs Health will continue to work with Swoop Aero to refine the planned hubs, flight paths and frequency of the drone deliveries.
It is hoped that once the grant is approved the pilot will commence by the end of the year.