Integrating drones into NT Health
The project will develop local capacity to integrate autonomous aircraft into the health care supply chain to remote communities in the Northern Territory.
The delivery of time-critical medical items is a serious limitation and cost for healthcare in remote and regional Australia. Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) have become a routine part of medical delivery infrastructure in some developing countries, improving timeliness, reducing costs, and saving lives. However their use in the Australian health care supply chain is still in its infancy.
There are numerous challenges to incorporating RPA into the healthcare supply chain for remote and regional Australia. The aim of this project is to solve those challenges and build capacity so that RPA may become a routine and sustainable addition to the Northern Territory Health care transport service.
- Northern Territory Department of Health
- Charles Darwin University
The Northern Territory’s population is amongst the most sparsely settled jurisdictions in the developed world. The delivery of time-critical medical items is a serious limitation and cost of healthcare in remote and regional Australia.
The transportation of time-critical medical items absorbs a substantial portion of the Northern Territory healthcare budget. An aging demographic in the remote-living Aboriginal population of the Northern Territory will see costs continue to rise if we follow a business-as-usual scenario.
Medical RPA have become a routine part of the medical delivery infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa, and although remote parts of that continent are fundamentally different to the Northern Territory, the success of these ventures highlights their potential in reducing costs and increase timeliness of health care to the NT’s remote communities.
However, it is not as simple to just replicate the infrastructure used in developing nations into Australian health care, as there are considerable challenges unique to the Northern Territory. These are:
- the vast distances that RPA would need to travel to deliver medical items to remote communities
- strict air safety regulations across the region
- a harsh climate and unpredictable weather events
- sparse population with low levels of training
Solving these challenges will ensure sustainability of this service beyond the lifetime of the project, and support sustained progressive advocacy for the use of RPA into health care, transport, and mobility across remote and regional Australia.
- Foster and grow local capacity to enable project deliverables.
- Create decision support tools to prioritise flight path selection.
- Develop regular RPA flights along specified flight paths. up to a distance of 200 kilometres.
- Deliver some medical items by RPA to remote communities.
- Develop logistical framework to undertake emergency response flights.
- Ensure sustainability of RPA operations for medical delivery in the Northern Territory beyond the lifetime of this project.
UPDATES: 10 February 2021
We have a little more detail on the project’s timeline, along with quotes from iMOVE’s Programs Director, Lee-Ann Breger, that you can read at Australia’s first drone trial for medical supplies in remote areas.
We’ve also had quite a bit of media coverage. Here’s a video from the ABC on the project:
UPDATE: 11 February 2021
An interview with iMOVE MD Ian Christensen about this project, on the John Stanley show on radio 2GB. The segment is just over 10 minutes long. Click here to listen.
UPDATE: 31 March 2021
The Drones for Life project team is seeking Expressions of Interest from manufacturers of remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) to participate in this research project. Applications close at 2 pm (ACST) on 27/04/2021. For more information, and to apply, visit the NACAS Opportunities page.
UPDATE: 27 May 2021
We interviewed Jackie Dujmović, co-founder and CEO of Hover UAV, and an adviser on this project. Topics covered include what the drone needs to do, where it needs to fly, what areas it will fly over, and what’s on the ground. Read the interview at A medical drone for the NT: Challenges and opportunities
UPDATE:16 November 2021
We spoke to Rebecca Ludgate, the Chief Remote Drone Pilot for this project. Find out what will be involved to get these drones up in the air, the role of the pilot, and how Rebecca navigated her way to this role. Read the article at Chief Remote Drone Pilot takes health project to new heights.
Please note …
Ongoing, this page will be a living record of this project. As it continues, matures, hits milestones, etc., we’ll add information, links, images, interviews and more. Watch this space!