On Aug. 19, a drone delivered an Epipen and naloxone from a London Drugs facility in Duncan to a resident on Salt Spring Island, about six kilometres away over the Pacific Ocean.
A historic drone flight carrying prescription medication from Vancouver Island to Salt Spring Island could pave the way for drone deliveries of life-saving medication to remote locations.
On Aug. 19, a drone delivered an EpiPen and naloxone from a London Drugs in Duncan to a resident on Salt Spring Island, about six kilometres away over the Pacific Ocean. Another drone made a second delivery to a local grocery store.
“It’s the first in Canada, possibly North America, to deliver prescription drugs via drone,” said Philip Reece, CEO of InDro Robotics.
The Salt Spring Island-based company, in partnership with Canada Post and London Drugs, conducted the country’s first beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) flight carrying pharmaceuticals as part of Transport Canada’s drone trials.
The drone flew itself most of the way, planning the route itself, and making adjustments as it encounters weather issues or other aircraft, said Reece. A pilot on Salt Spring Island monitored the flight in the background as a safety precaution.
Flying drones beyond visual-line-of-sight requires an additional level of safety in place. The drone was equipped with a camera, and the ability to listen out for other aircraft and send out alerts to nearby pilots to let them know an unmanned aerial vehicle is in operation.
The success of the trial flight could mean a change in the use of drones from tech toys or buzzing annoyances to an asset that could change the future of logistics and deliveries.
“It makes a huge difference,” said Reece. “It opens up a huge opportunity for pharmacists to get aid quicker to those who need it.”
It would be a boon to patients in remote areas who otherwise have to travel hours to get to a pharmacy, said Chris Chiew, general manager of London Drugs’ pharmacy division. “In the very near future, we will be able to provide delivery of prescription medications to an abundance of areas not accessible by vehicle.”
The drone flew at 50-60 km/h at about 75 metres above the ground. It can carry a maximum of 5.5 kilograms, though other models can carry up to 20 kg. When it reached the customer’s home, it landed on an orange pad marked with an H the customer had put on the ground outside, indicating the landing zone.
The operational data obtained from the trials will be used by Transport Canada to inform BVLOS rules in the future.
Reece estimates such deliveries could be rolled out in about a year.