Drug delivery by drone?
No, it’s not the latest strategy from 21st-century drug dealers but, rather, the possible future for Canadians who live in remote areas and require medication.
Earlier this month, Canada Post, London Drugs and InDro Robotics successfully flew pharmaceuticals by drone from Vancouver Island to multiple locations on Salt Spring Island as a part of a test program.
The trial — in which the drugs were flown six kilometres over the Pacific Ocean in 11 minutes from Duncan on Vancouver Island to Salt Spring Island — is the first time medication has been delivered beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) by drone in Canada, according to the companies involved.
The B.C. trials, which took place Aug. 19, saw drones loaded with an Epi-Pen and naloxone launched from a mobile London Drugs pharmacy and delivered to the Country Grocer on Salt Spring Island as well as directly to a patient’s home on the island.
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Transport Canada launched BVLOS drone trials in 2018, which have seen Canada Post test deliveries over bodies of water, icy roads, challenging terrain and to remote work camps.
“The ability to provide medications to patients in remote areas that would otherwise have to travel hours to obtain pharmacy service is significant in so many ways,” said Chris Chiew, general manager of pharmacy with London Drugs, in a media release.
“In the very near future, we will be able to provide delivery of prescription medications to an abundance of areas not accessible by vehicle.”
InDro Robotics CEO Philip Reece said regulations remain the key barrier to such drone deliveries, but that Transport Canada has been proactive about working with the industry about a way forward.
He said technological barriers to the delivery concept have been falling quickly.
“To be able to fly a drone carrying a payload over these long distances is really the thing that’s arrived now that makes it possible to do this,” he said.
Several other companies are also engaged in Transport Canada’s BVLOS trials.
Canadian UAVs is conducting long-range pipeline surveys in Alberta, Drone Delivery Canada is testing the use of drones for food and medical delivery in northern Ontario and ING Robotic Aviation is conducting infrastructure survey trials in Western Canada.
Transport Canada will use the data collected from the trials to inform Canadian BVLOS regulations moving forward.