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Alberta researchers are bringing tests, medical supplies to remote communities using drones

Researchers from the University of Calgary, SAIT, and Alberta Health are conducting test flights using drones to fly PPE and testing kits from the Foothills Hospital in Calgary to the Stoney Nakoda reserve. The eventual goal is to bring rapid COVID-19 testing to remote communities.
By: Heather Marie Connors
October 26, 2020
Photo by Leah Hennel

Accessing personal protective equipment and COVID-19 tests can be a challenge in remote parts of Alberta. To tackle this, researchers from SAIT’s Centre for Innovation and Research in Unmanned Systems (CIRUS) have been testing drone flight plans and procedures in partnership with the Stoney Nakoda Nation. The goal is to fine-tune the procedure so that medical supplies can be delivered to remote communities anywhere in Canada.

RNA COVID-19 tests have successfully been collected during the project, and researchers are planning to scale up, flying into more remote locations.

Metrics such as battery life, fuel, and flight plans are all being tested, and the data gathered will be provided to Transport Canada, the agency responsible for drone safety and legal requirements.

"It requires a lot of extra items to be able to support that operation safely," lead researcher Wade Hawkins told CBC. "So, for example, we need to be able to ensure we have a detect-and-avoid system. So on our particular drone, we have to be able to sense surrounding aircraft to avoid them."

The work will continue through the winter, to test the drones in different weather conditions.

"Could we do drone delivery of prescriptions or medications … particularly if there was inclement weather and someone had difficulty trying to navigate into a central site?" said Dr. John Conly from the University of Calgary, "The sky's the limit in this respect, and I think it opens up many doors."

Source: CBC Calgary

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