Telangana becomes first State to use drones to deliver medicines

Published : September 12, 2021 10:51 IST

Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia at the first launch of a drone to deliver medicines and vaccines, in Vikarabad district on September 11. Photo: PTI

Telangana, on September 11, became the first State in the country to embark on the innovative use of drone technology for quick delivery of approved medicines to far-flung rural areas and vulnerable communities.

The State’s groundbreaking ‘Medicine from the Sky’ initiative, which will use Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLoS) flights to deliver payloads of medicine, vaccines and donor blood, was launched with the delivery of a payload from the Vikarabad police Parade Ground to a government health care facility 3 kilometres away. Through this initiative the Telangana government wants to ensure “faster vaccine delivery” and “improved health care access”.

The government plans to use these BVLoS flights from the Vikarabad area hospital to link up with various primary health centres and sub-centres. Approved vaccines and medicines will now be delivered using drones, and primary health care providers should be able to get their daily medical requirements within a few minutes of the click of a button.

Launched by Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia along with the State’s Information Technology Minister K.T. Rama Rao and Education Minister Patlolla Sabitha Indra Reddy, ‘Medicine from the Sky’ is a collaborative effort between the Emerging Technologies Wing of the Telangana ITE&C Department and the World Economic Forum, NITI Aayog and HealthNet Global (Apollo Hospitals). This is the first drone programme since the Ministry of Civil Aviation liberalised its drone policy. Telangana was granted exemptions from the Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Rules 2021 by the Ministry and given permission to conduct BVLoS drone operations.

The project has multiple drone consortiums participating together in a bid to establish the use case of long-range, drone-based medical deliveries. Eight consortia are part of the project, out of which four — Hepicopter, comprising the Hyderabad-based Marut Drones and Public Health Foundation of India; Blue Dart Med Express, comprising Blue Dart and Skye Air; Adani Defence Group company Alpha Digital Technologies; and Curis Fly, comprising TechEagle, launched their drones on September 11.

The initial trial runs of the project will focus on laying the groundwork for a network that can improve manifold the accessibility to crucial health care supplies for remote areas of the State. The Telangana government is planning to implement the project across the State.

According to officials, the drone deliveries work on a hub-and-spoke model. The drones’ services are accessible through a mobile app. Once the team operating the drone at the central hub gets a message on the inventories needed, the medicines are loaded, the coordinates are fed into the systems, regular pre-flight tests and wind conditions and such other checks are conducted before lift-off. The health worker picks up the medicines at the drop-off point.

According to Vignesh Santhanam, who leads the Drones and Tomorrow’s Airspace initiative for the World Economic Forum (India chapter), the model being embarked in India was based on leveraging “make in India drones, to carry made in India vaccines to serve rural and isolated communities”. Santhanam disclosed that ‘Medicines from the Sky’ project would be ramped up to cover six other Indian over the next six to 12 months and the model eventually recreated across the country. The World Economic Forum, which has commissioned an industry core group comprising the Telangana government, the Public Health Foundation of India, and NITI Ayog to investigate aspects of mobilising capital for the drone ecosystem, is hoping to use the Telangana template not just for India, but for the region at large.

Speaking at the launch Jyotiraditya Scindia said that the liberalised new Drone Rules, including cutting down the number of forms from 25 to five, and reducing the types of fees from 72 to seven, had made it easier for entrepreneurs. ENDs

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