Drone project to make medicines more accessible

Goondiwindi local Greg Rixon with Goondiwindi TerryWhite Chemmart Pharmacist Lucy Walker and drone.

In what will be a first for regional Australia, TerryWhite Chemmart (TWC), in partnership with Melbourne-based company Swoop Aero and healthcare wholesaler Symbion, is reportedly planning to trial the delivery of medicines via remotely operated drones.

Over the coming months, the project, which has been in development for more than a year, will trial flights from the town of Goondiwindi, located on the Queensland/NSW border.

Goondiwindi local Greg Rixon with drone and product pack.

TWC Goondiwindi Pharmacist, Lucy Walker says she is delighted that their community has been chosen for the drone trial.

“Many of my customers live on farms or in 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,” says Ms Walker, adding that she is “really excited for the residents of Goondiwindi and the surrounding region”.

“With the ability to service people within a 130km range of Goondiwindi, this drone trial will provide enormous convenience and peace of mind for many of our customers.

“Importantly, we will learn a great deal from the trial – what works well and what may need improving,” she says.

These learning, says Ms Walker, will help other regional TWC pharmacies across Australia to gain insight into the effectiveness of a “drone delivery service”.

“We can use these learning to not only fine tune the service to our community, but also share with other regional TWC pharmacies around Australia who may be looking to investigate a drone delivery service,” she says.

Drone deliveries could be of ‘critical importance’

Funded by Symbion’s parent entity, EBOS Group, the project is said to underscore the company’s commitment to ensuring all Australians have access to medicines, at all times.

Symbion CEO Brett Barons says that not only does this project mean that people will have convenient access to medicines regardless of where they live but it will also mean that even in times of crisis like “the terrible bushfires in Australia last summer”, people will still be able to access their medications.

“… There were cases where road access to some homes and towns was completely shut off. To have a drone provide deliveries of medicines could be of critical importance in situations where accessibility is limited,” says Mr Barons.

Key considerations – security and safety

While there may be some apprehension around the safety and security in delivering medicines using drone technology, Swoop Aero CEO Eric Peck reassures consumers and pharmacists that “the company has significant experience internationally in facilitating similar drone medicine delivery projects and will bring those learnings and new innovations to the first Australian trial”.

“When we’re dealing with medicines, security and safety are obviously key considerations and Swoop Aero is firmly committed to ensuring that safety is our number one priority,” says Mr Peck.

“That is why we have designed a full aviation system around our drone technology, which is unique in its ability to scale.

“The drone will fly in and out of a central point in Goondiwindi with the flight path fully automated and approved by CASA (Australia’s aviation regulator), deliver the customer’s products, then return to base ready for its next job.”

Mr Peck explains that the drone can withstand extremes in weather, including 50km/h winds and heavy rain, and can reach speeds of 115km/h.

He adds that the drone has a range of 130km on a single charge and can therefore reach anyone living within that radius in Goondiwindi.

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