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Storm-proof drone to deliver medicines to regional town

written by Adam Thorn | February 23, 2021
Drone regional Australia Swoop Aero
Pharmacy owner Lucy Walker with Swoop Aero drone.

A Melbourne-based company is to trial delivering medicines via automated drones to a regional town on the Queensland–NSW border.

Swoop Aero said its devices, which can withstand 50km/h winds and heavy rain, will fly in and out of Goondiwindi at 115km/h. The drone boasts a range of 130 kilometres on a single charge.

The project has been in development for a year and is being funded by the EBOS Group, the parent entity of healthcare providers TerryWhite Chemmart and Symbion.

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Eric Peck, CEO at Swoop Aero, said, “The drone will fly in and out of a central point in Goondiwindi with the flight path fully automated and approved by CASA, deliver the customers products, then return to base ready for its next job. After a little training, it is very easy to operate.

“Our aircraft do not have onboard cameras filming in-flight but are instead guided by a three-tiered communications system consisting of mobile internet, satellite communications and Data Link.

“The sound of one of our drones taking off is similar to a bus starting its engine, and lasts for only up to around 10 seconds until the plane reaches cruising altitude, at which point during normal cruise flight the noise is imperceptible over normal background noise.”

Swoop Aero said it is currently working with CASA and relevant authorities to ensure all requirements are met, with the launch of the service remaining subject to regulatory approvals.

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Goondiwindi pharmacist Lucy Walker said, “Many of my customers live on farms or small towns in outlying areas. In some cases, a visit to our pharmacy to collect their vital medicines may mean a three-hour round trip.

“Importantly, we will learn a great deal from the trial, what works well, and what may need improving. We can use these learnings to not only fine tune the service to our community but also share with other regional TerryWhite Chemmart pharmacies around Australia who may be looking to investigate a drone delivery service.

In June 2020, Australian Aviation reported how Swoop secured an eight-figure sum from an investment round.

The business said it would use the money from Right Click Capital and Tempus Partners to establish a presence in New Zealand and certify its aviation systems for more operations.

The business has generated headlines since its foundation in 2017, including by being the first company in the world to remotely pilot commercially used drones from another country.

Swoop flew PPE in Malawi during the COVID-19 pandemic, while piloting the aircraft from Australia.

It’s also been behind a series of pioneering projects, including transporting a vaccine to a baby on a small Pacific island in conjunction with Unicef.

The aircraft flew 40 kilometres across rugged mountains in Vanuatu that otherwise take hours to cross by road. The company says around 20 per cent of children in the country don’t receive important vaccinations because the supply is too difficult.

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