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India testing medical drones to deliver drugs, vaccines; trials begin today


Trial run being conducted near Bengaluru. Two kinds of MedCOPTER drones will be tried out.

India testing medical drones to deliver drugs, vaccines; trials begin today
In a first for the country, a medical drone is all set to begin its trial delivery flight beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) on June 18 in Gauribidanur, around 80 km from Bengaluru. The first set of trials by a consortium of firms, led by Bengaluru’s Throttle Aerospaces Systems (TAS), will be carried out for 30-45 days.
Though the trial had got approval from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) in March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic led to delays in permissions from some other agencies.
Two variants of MedCOPTER drones are being used in the trial. A small MedCOPTER drone with a range of 15 km can deliver a payload of up to 1 kg, while the other, which can carry 2 kg load, travels only up to 12 km. These drones will be assisted by delivery software RANDINT.
While the DGCA guidelines require them to fly for at least 100 hours, Throttle Aerospaces Systems is looking forward to flying them for at least 125 hours during the trial period.
Meanwhile, the Centre has eased restrictions on drone flights, which are currently allowed only in visual line of sight of the operators.
In May, the government granted conditional exemption from the Unmanned Aircraft Systems rules to 20 entities to conduct BVLOS experimental flights of drones.
TAS Chief Executive Officer Nagendran Kandasamy said two other consortia have permission for BVLOS experiments. "But ours is the first legal/official medical drone delivery experiment. We have come a long way since 2016. After a long wait, we now have an official go-ahead from the BVLOS Experiment Monitoring Committee (BEMC) and we look forward to leveraging commercial drone delivery in India soon," The Times of India quoted Kandasamy as saying.
According to the ToI report, noted cardiac surgeon Dr Devi Shetty has backed the trials, while Narayana Health will be partnering with the consortium and providing medicines for transportation during the trials.
Other Fliers
Meanwhile, DroneAcharya Aerial Innovations along with Flipkart have shown interest in the Telangana government’s ‘Medicine from the Sky’ project, which aims to deploy drones over areas with complex terrain and tough accessibility to primarily supply medical items.
According to Geospatial World, DroneAcharya has also partnered with industry experts like Flipkart, Skye Air Mobility and Altitude Angel to make the BVLOS deliveries possible.
The ITE&C Department of the Telangana government recently launched the project to study the feasibility of sending medical supplies through drones. The state government is also working with Dunzo, News 18 had reported.
Drones for Vaccine Delivery
The government is already mulling the use of drones for delivery of the COVID-19 vaccine to remote areas to ensure last-mile coverage. A study by Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, said it was feasible.
On June 11, HLL Infra Tech Services Limited, on behalf of the Indian Council of Medical Research, (ICMR) had invited an expression of interest (EoI) to deliver vaccines and drugs by UAVs to select areas with difficult terrains in India, according to News 18.

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