Zipline have made astonishing headway in the field of delivering time and temperature-sensitive medical packages by drone.
They’ve already made blood supplies available to rural areas of Rwanda, saving and changing the lives of many who might have otherwise perished with 3,500 deliveries in 18 months.
In April of this year they announced plans to expand their services to the United States, and now it seems Australia is next on their list.
With the ability to reduce delivery times from hours to minutes, Zipline claims that their just-in-time drone delivery system has reduced waste and spoilage in Rwanda by almost 100%.
Dan Czerwonka, Zipline’s head of global operations, who is attending the World of Drones Congress in Brisbane next week told SBS News that Australia “has a lot of the same issues in terms of rural health that the developing world does.”
Australia is a large country, with seemingly unsurmountable distances, and remote communities have been serviced for 90 years by the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS).
A spokesperson for the RFDS said they have made 3,500 medical chests available for emergency and tele health consultation across Australia, but blood supplies are carried with their own visiting doctors.
Blood supplies for state-run public hospitals are handled by a separate supply chain however, and Czerwonka said that early talks with the NSW and Queensland governments have been promising.
Whether such flights would be legal under Australian law however is another matter.
Zipline’s delivery drones have a range of 80km, meaning that in many cases, flight must be conducted beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS).
Current regulations set by the Civil Aviation and Safety Authority (CASA) do not allow for BVLOS flight, although Jonathan Aleck, a policy officer at CASA has told SBS News that BVLOS regulations may come into force.
“That kind of activity could occur here under appropriate authorisations and approvals,” he said.
So far, exemptions for the law are made on a case-by-case basis.
Similar tests are already being carried out by Google’s Project Wing at a remote community on the order of the ACT and NSW near Canberra, with CASA’s approval.
A recent inquiry conducted by the Australian government into drones recommends that the registration and licensing of pilots flying drones over 250gm, but currently CASA is exempting BVLOS flights on a case-by-case basis, so technological progress could advance,” said Aleck.
Czerwonka told SBS News that Zipline has extensively tested their drone delivery system and that multiple redundancies are in place to ensure safe landings in case of drones disappearing from radar.