Hyderabad: In a historic first, a drone carried a box weighing 12 kgs of medicines and 20 vials of vaccines over six kilometres in five minutes in Vikarabad district, marking the launch of the ‘Medicines from the Sky’ project. Present on the occasion were union civil aviation minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, who called it “a revolutionary day not only for Telangana but for the whole country,” and state ministers K.T. Rama Rao and P. Sabitha Indra Reddy.
The drone flight was a line-of-sight operation, meaning it was visible to operators throughout the flight, and took its cargo to a primary health centre.
In earlier trials, drones flew to distances between 500 metres and 1 kilometre. The medicine boxes they carried were empty. On Saturday, a drone made its first delivery of medicines and vaccines to a primary health centre.
Scindia said the ‘Medicines from the Sky’ would be taken up on a pilot basis in 16 green zones in the state and scaled up to the national level after analysing the data for three months. He said eight other states would take up the drone delivery tests.
Scindia said the civil aviation ministry’s new drone rules, drawn up under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had unlocked the drone industry and the focus was on innovation on the principles of trust, self-certification, and non-intrusive monitoring.
“Drones are a frontier technology that can be used to access otherwise inaccessible areas. India is all set to become the drone hub of the world by 2030," Scindia said.
He said interactive airspace maps with green, yellow and red zones will be displayed on digital sky platforms soon. No permission is required to operate in green zones, up to a vertical distance of 400 feet.
Speaking on the occasion, Rama Rao said, "Telangana is the youngest state and we are looking at innovative solutions which will help the common man. During the pandemic, healthcare supply chains can be further strengthened with drones.”
He said the enthusiasm and support from all the partners was appreciated. “We also appeal to use the airport space at Begumpet for developing an aviation university or a centre of excellence for aerospace."
Saturday’s initiative was done in partnership with the World Economic Forum, Niti Aayog, and HealthNet Global (Apollo Hospitals). There are eight consortium operators and two of them will carry out trails per week for a month.
Also on Saturday, two other drones were tested in Vikarabad district. They carried 5 kgs, flew 5 km and were brought back. They had a thermometer to measure the temperature inside the box as maintaining low temperatures are vital for vaccines and medicines.
Vikarabad district was selected for the launch of ‘Medicine from the Sky’ project because it has public health centres in far-flung areas. This would give operators the experience to extend the operations to other districts.
The trials were focused on laying the groundwork for the drone delivery network that will improve access to vital healthcare supplies for remote and vulnerable communities. The project is a first-of-its-kind as it lies in the overlap of two of the most regulated sectors in the world — aviation and healthcare.
The project has eight participating consortiums comprising drone operators, experts in healthcare and airspace management among others. It will demonstrate short and long-range drone-based deliveries to assess the efficacy of low altitude aerial logistics in healthcare.