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Trial paths way for drones to fly COVID jabs in NT

written by Adam Thorn | February 10, 2021

A file image of a drone.
The number of drones in Australia is unknown, but estimates say it could be in the hundreds of thousands. (Australian Aviation archive)

A government-backed project will design and manufacture custom drones to fly medicines up to 250 kilometres in the Northern Territory.

Charles Darwin University will manage the trial, which will involve developing a test flight centre and recruiting pilots. It says it hopes the drones could eventually deliver cold-storage COVID vaccines to remote communities.

The pilot program hopes to achieve regular drone flights of up to 100 kilometres by the end of 2021 and flights of up to 250 kilometres by 1 July 2023.

It is being funded by the iMOVE Cooperative Research Centre, a non-profit collaboration between government and industry.

Lee-Ann Breger, iMOVE programs director, who conceived the project, said, “There are about 8 million people living in rural and remote parts of the country – that’s about a third of our population living in places where getting life-saving medical supplies is not only a race against time, but also a battle against the tyranny of distance, harsh landscapes and unpredictable elements.


“Regional communities face medical access and health supply issues. This doesn’t have to be the case. We have the technology to put an end to this deprivation, especially in remote Northern Territory First Nations communities.

“We are looking at developing capacity and ways of doing things to ensure sustainability of this service beyond the lifetime of the project. It’s ground-breaking and important work, with significant benefits for millions of people who live in regional areas.

“Drones seem an obvious solution, a potential game-changer. In the not too distant future, if you see a drone flying overhead in the middle of nowhere there’s a fair chance that technology is on its way to help someone or even save their life.”

Drone consultancy Hover UAV, which has managed projects for Google, is also confirmed to be advising on the project.

Formed in July 2017, iMOVE now has 44 industry, government and research partners on board.

Last year, Australian Aviation reported how Google’s drone delivery service, Wing, is set to expand to new locations in Australia after successful trials in Canberra and Logan, Queensland.

The business’ head of policy and government affairs, Margaret Nagle, revealed orders soared 500 per cent because of COVID-19 as customers sought to obtain goods in a contactless way.

Wing first launched in Canberra in 2019 and currently allows for the delivery of packages that weigh less than 1.5 kilograms from a variety of retailers who sell household goods.

The business, a subsidiary of Google owner Alphabet, first launched in 2012 and has conducted more than 100,000 flights worldwide.

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Comment (1)

  • Kane


    So taxpayers’ are ‘generously’ having to fund ‘drone in the sky’ stupidity to send vaccines’ to remote communities’ in the NT.
    Haven’t they heard of ‘freezer trucks’ transport? How do they currently get temperature-sensitive medicines there now?
    What a waste of taxpayers’ money. Bet if organizers’ didn’t have this largesse, they wouldn’t be bothered looking elsewhere for funds’.
    Just another tax rort on Aussies’.

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