The University of Calgary’s Ward of the 21st Century (W21C) collaborates with Alberta Precision Labs, Stoney Nakoda Frist Nation, and SAIT to test whether the use of drones is possible to deliver essential medical services and supplies during a health crisis as shown in this handout image provided by University of Calgary. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-University of Calgary-Riley Brandt

The University of Calgary’s Ward of the 21st Century (W21C) collaborates with Alberta Precision Labs, Stoney Nakoda Frist Nation, and SAIT to test whether the use of drones is possible to deliver essential medical services and supplies during a health crisis as shown in this handout image provided by University of Calgary. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-University of Calgary-Riley Brandt

‘Sky is the limit:’ Pilot project using drones to send medical supplies, COVID tests

Initial test flights ‘are going great so far’

The windswept foothills of Alberta’s Rocky Mountains are the setting for a pilot project using drones to deliver medical supplies and personal protective equipment to remote communities.

Researchers at the University of Calgary, Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT), Alberta Health Services and Alberta Precision Laboratories partnered with the three reserves that are part of the Stoney Nakoda First Nation last summer.

A large drone, looking very much like a small helicopter and able to carry up to 45 kilograms, delivered equipment and COVID-19 test kits on its maiden voyage to the Morley reserve west of Calgary.

The project was the brainchild of Wade Hawkins, lead researcher at SAIT’s Centre for Innovation and Research in Unmanned Systems, and Dr. John Conly, medical director of the Cumming School of Medicine’s research and innovation centre.

“We think that the sky is the limit, literally, for this type of technology, marrying drones with … medical supply delivery,” Conly said.

“We’re just priming ourselves for what could be a great delivery service.

“My vision is we create a drone army that would be supplemental to the medical care that we deliver.”

Hawkins said initial test flights “are going great so far.”

Eden Valley, southwest of Calgary, will provide challenges due to distance and strong winds. Big Horn, in central Alberta, is even farther away and the terrain is more rugged and cell service more spotty.

“Our goal is to prove this technology locally and then we’ll move that Canada-wide potentially — to northern territories with truly remote environments — and then developing countries.”

Hawkins said the Alberta tests are to wrap up by next summer and the idea is drawing international attention.

“We’ve even had interest from the World Health Organization (WHO). They’re actually a funder now and they’re interested in seeing what we can do,” he said.

“They’re interested in some of the countries in Africa, primarily for delivery of medical supplies, but also COVID testing … (and) delivery of mobile medical equipment.”

Conly, who has been a senior technical adviser with the WHO’s COVID-19 response program, said the agency sees the potential.

“They were quite intrigued about the issue for vaccine delivery. They would be able to load up and deliver vaccine to remote villages for self-inoculation.”

The project is also testing smaller drones to send medical equipment, such as portable ultrasound devices, directly to patients, so a doctor could do remote examinations.

“The ultrasounds are getting tiny. I’d say less than a pound. They can actually be powered by plugging into your smartphone,” said Dr. Andrew Kirkpatrick, a professor at the Cumming School of Medicine and a trauma surgeon who has worked with NASA.

“If it’s immediately life-threatening, you can act on it. Time is everything in emergency medicine.”

The CEO of the Stoney Nakoda said the First Nation is thrilled to be on the ground floor of testing new technology.

Ryan Robb said Morley is next to the Trans-Canada Highway, but the other reserves are more isolated. So drones could prove valuable in providing better health care.

“We could see this being used to deliver medicine. We still have many people on our reserve where I can’t drive to their house unless I’m in a four-wheel drive,” Robb said.

“We would like to be cutting edge, too. These aren’t the same drones your kids are playing with.”

Dr. Aurang Khan with Stoney Health Services said the use of drones is essential for remote communities, especially to test for COVID-19.

“Having this technology to be able to deliver personal protective equipment and swabs and testing kits to the health centre … is really going to improve the outcome for our community members in terms of health,” he said.

“We can easily summon the drone and have all the swabs loaded on to it and sent to the provincial lab at Foothills Hospital (in Calgary) and we’ll get the results in a very short time.”

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

AlbertaCalgaryCoronavirusdroneHealthcarevideo

Just Posted

Fraser Health registered nurse Kai Kayibadi draws a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe at a walk-up vaccination clinic at Bear Creek Park, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, May 17, 2021. To reduce long lines and wait times the first 1,000 Surrey residents to arrive at the neighbourhood clinic on both Monday and Tuesday will receive wristbands and a same-day appointment. The effort is in addition to the provincial vaccination plan which is now open for bookings to anyone who is 18 years and older. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
69 new cases of COVID-19 reported in Interior Health

The province, in total, recorded 411 new cases showing a downtrend of new infections

Enderby’s annual Clean-Up Challenge will use a self-guided format this year in keeping with COVID-19 public health guidelines. The challenge will take place Saturday, May 29, 2021. (File photo)
Enderby clean-up challenge back with pandemic-friendly format

This year’s self-guided Clean-Up Challenge to beautify the city will take place Saturday, May 29

Okanagan Landing Bench Road will be closed between Okanagan Landing Road and Bench Row Road Wednesday, May 19, from 7:30 a.m. to approximately 3 p.m. for maintenance and line painting. (City of Vernon graphic)
Vernon road to close for eight hours

Okanagan Landing Bench Road will be shut between Bench Row Road and Okanagan Landing Road Wednesday, May 19, from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Vernon Pickleball Association members Rob Irving, from left, Myron Hocevar, Don Friesen and Ian Phillips flank Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming, centre, inside the newly roofed Okanagan Wealth Advisors Pickleball Complex at Marshall Fields. (City of Vernon photo)
Vernon pickleball group raises new roof on complex

Vernon Pickleball Association’s Okanagan Wealth Advisors complex available now for year-round play

Lake Country’s Airport Inn may become the future site of long-term rental housing. (File photo)
Rumours persist long-term rentals slated for Lake Country Airport Inn site

Sale of controversial highway-side accommodation not final, no development permit application applied for - yet

A prowling coyote proved no match for a stray black cat who chased it out of a Port Moody parking lot Friday, May 14. (Twitter/Screen grab)
VIDEO: Little but fierce: Cat spotted chasing off coyote by Port Moody police

The black cat is seen jumping out from under a parked car and running the wild animal out of a vacant lot

A forest of dance-protesters outside the BC Legislature on April 11. These participants were doing the Dance for the Ancient Forest in support of the Fairy Creek blockade and against old-growth logging. (Zoë Ducklow/News Staff)
Arrests begin at Fairy Creek blockade on Vancouver Island

Five protesters arrested as RCMP begin to enforce injunction

A thunderstorm pictured in Fraser Valley in 2021. (Black Press Media/Jaimie Grafstrom)
Wildfire concerns sparked after 320+ lightning strikes blasted B.C. yesterday

Approximately one-quarter of the province is currently listed as being at moderate risk of fire

WorkSafe BC is out in the Interior making sure wineries, cideries and breweries are adhering to COVID-19 safety protocols. (File photo)
WorkSafe visiting Interior wineries, cideries and breweries ahead of tourist tasting season

40 field inspections and 35 consultations are expected over next few weeks

B.C. RCMP released these two photos of Erick Fryer (left) and Carlo Fryer (right). The two brothers from Kamloops were found dead near a remote road in Naramata May 10, 2021. (RCMP photo)
Slain Kamloops brothers found near Penticton not likely connected to recent B.C. gang wars: RCMP

Police confirm the bodies found near Naramata as Erick Fryer, 29, and Carlo Fryer, 31

Several RCMP cruisers stationed out front of Kelowna’s Global Fitness following a shooting on the morning of Monday, March 29. The shooting was later revealed to be gang-related. (Michael Rodriguez/Capital News)
B.C.’s top gangs are operating in Kelowna: RCMP

‘We have all of the major gangs in Kelowna,’ said Supt. Kara Triance

Kelowna RCMP precinct. (Michael Rodriguez/Capital News file)
Kelowna RCMP promotion process tainted with bias: federal judge

An officer was passed over for a promotion in 2015

A restaurant server on White Rock’s Marine Drive serves customers on a roadside patio. Indoor dining and recreational travel bans have been in effect since late March in B.C. (Peace Arch News)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate falls to 411 cases Tuesday

360 people in hospital, up slightly, two more deaths

The Banff National Park entrance is shown in Banff, Alta., Tuesday, March 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Minister asks Canadians to camp carefully in national parks as season starts

Kitchen shelters in Banff National Park closed, trails on Vancouver Island will only be one-way

Most Read