Australian drone delivery company Swoop Aero has signed a deal with TerryWhite Chemmart pharmacies in Goondiwindi, Queensland, to deliver medicine to customers within a 130-kilometer (80-mile) radius. The drones are expected to hit the skies in May.
The drones have a secure temperature-controlled payload area that will allow rural customers to get their medicines in a matter of minutes, compared to the current drive that can take up to three hours.
The two companies are working with Australia’s largest healthcare wholesaler Symbion, which will be funding the delivery costs until the drones are tested and deemed reliable. Customers will eventually pay for the deliveries, with the expected cost to be similar to a courier.
As Swoop Aero has done with its drone delivery operations in Africa, the pilot will be flying up to five drones at a time from the company’s Melbourne office. Swoop Aero has been working with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) for more than a year to get this local program off the ground.
Lucy Walker, pharmacist and owner of the TerryWhite Chemmart pharmacy in Goondiwindi, shared:
One of the big barriers to health care in rural areas is access. I could see it as a good way of overcoming the tyranny of distance. Having that ability now if they are not well or if they have a sick child at home to deliver medication to them will be great. There is a carrier area that we can put a package into and it carries up to three kilograms in cold storage. So if we are doing a flu vaccination clinic at a little town and we run out of stock we could get the drone to deliver more.
Swoop Aero has mostly focused its efforts in the African market, working in DR Congo and Malawi. The drones are still in the air and deliver COVID-19 test kits, measles, tuberculosis, and HIV medicines. One area that the company has wanted to enter but hasn’t been able to do so up until now is in its own country, Australia.
We shared that the company was already talking to CASA in April of last year, with hopes to get flying as soon as possible. Swoop Aero’s choice to use Queensland is a no-brainer as the state has quickly become the breeding ground for drone projects, from Google’s Wing deliveries to building the next generation of defense drones Australian defense forces.
Founder and chief executive of Swoop Aero Eric Peck said:
Right from the early days, we knew there was a lot of demand for this in Australia. This is something quite new for Australia, carriage of medical supplies across state lines over long distances by drone. It’s really exciting.
Swoop Aero isn’t new to drone medical deliveries. They have been working with remote villages in Africa to deliver blood samples to hospitals, helping fight against measles, tuberculosis, and HIV, among other tasks. Since February, the company’s fleet size has doubled to keep up with the previous demand, and it will continue to grow.
Swoop Aero’s drones can complete roundtrips of around 260 km (162 miles) and carry up to 10 test kits or 50 vials of blood. The drones have a wingspan of 2.4 m (nearly 8 feet) and are required to fly below 122 m (about 400 feet) to ensure they don’t collide with crewed aircraft. The flights cost around AUD $10 to $15 (USD $6.45 to $9.67), which is significantly cheaper than crewed transport over such a large distance.
Photo: Swoop Aero