Drones could be delivering medicine to remote, rural Northland communities by March next year. Medical Drones Aotearoa plans to begin trialling the delivery of medical supplies to Mitimiti, near Hokianga, in November and aimed to start its first regular service by March, pending Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) approval.
According to Medical Drones Aotearoa founder Robyn Kamira 14 per cent of patients in low socio-economic and rural areas did not pick up their medicines and even more rationed their medicines to make them last longer. The medical and crisis-support drone trials will lead to a high quality, high value service that will make a real difference to people’s lives also focusing on supporting communities that may otherwise be overlooked when it comes to deploying leading-edge technologies for services.
Mitimiti is a small settlement in Northland, New Zealand. It lies close to the Warawara Forest, between the mouths of the Whangape Harbour and Hokianga Harbour on Northland’s west coast, 44 km west of Kohukohu.
The name “Mitimiti” is thought to come from a Māori term meaning “to lick”, a reference to the belief that the souls of the dead, on their way to Cape Reinga, paused here to drink at the mouth of the Mitimiti Stream.
Those living in Mitimiti faced a relatively bumpy three-hour return trip to the closest pharmacy making it difficult for residents to access even basic medical supplies. The trial would test drones, leaving from a few different launch sites, to deliver unrestricted medicine, like Pamol, to the Mitimiti marae where it could be picked up or delivered by trusted community members.
The company had already acquired the airspace to fly to Mitimiti to be used as a drone testing space.
Between March and September 2018 it is hoped to extend the service to other rural communities near Mitimiti. From there the model could be transferred to other parts of the country which could benefit lots of people. Also being most in need of the service, the airspace around rural areas was usually less congested making it easier to get CAA approval for the flights.
Trial to begin in November 2017
Medical Drones Aotearoa Stage 1 aims to begin flight trials under controlled conditions in a rural area in November 2017. It will gather data on the location, distance, payload (weight) and medical processes. This will generate useful information that will contribute to further development and may include investigating new efficiencies, sensor development, features of designed-for-purpose drones, and risk mitigation features. The company expects the trials to have international impacts in the sector.
The company was in the process of developing systems and protocols to ensure the medicines could not be stolen and authenticate the safety of senders and receivers. The trial would begin with unrestricted medicine that could be bought from pharmacies over the counter until the security systems could be proven safe.
The trial would include tests that explored the safe delivery of medicines and flights that were beyond visual line of sight and autonomous – with the ability for a pilot to take control of the craft remotely and also could have international impacts.
Medical Drones Aotearoa were also looking to provide crisis support to emergency services by delivering aid to difficult to access areas and helping with disaster recovery and search and rescue.
The drones could also eventually send information to off-site medical teams and enable communication with patients.
According to New Zealand Medical Association chairwoman and rural GP Dr Kate Baddock the use of drones was “full of potential”. Baddock acknowledged there would be issues around security with drones but believed they were not insurmountable.
Kamira is also chief executive of Paua Interface, the company which will manage the new 874sq km drone trial space in Northland called Incredible Skies.
Medical drones will be tested at a commercial drone trial space in Hokianga. It had been established as a commercial drone technologies testing platform and the company already had inquiries from local and overseas companies wanting to schedule trials. The Hokianga airspace was away from airports and already had permission from landowners underneath the projected flight paths. So watch out for a drone medical service to land on your roof in near future.