TWC sends in the drones

Goondiwindi local Greg Rixon with Goondiwindi Terry White Chemmart Pharmacist Lucy Walker and drone.
Goondiwindi local Greg Rixon with Goondiwindi Terry White Chemmart Pharmacist Lucy Walker and drone.

Planning is underway for TerryWhite Chemmart to trial the delivery of medicines via remotely operated drone

The banner group says that the project is a first for regional Australia and is planned for the coming months.

The project, which is being undertaken in partnership with Melbourne-based company Swoop Aero and Symbion, has been in development for over a year, the partners say.

It is expected to trial flights from the town of Goondiwindi, located on the Queensland/NSW border.

Goondiwindi is home to award-winning TerryWhite Chemmart Goondiwindi pharmacy owner Lucy Walker, who said she is delighted her local community has been chosen to trial the delivery of medicines by drone.

“Many of my customers live on farms or small towns in outlying areas. In some cases a visit to our pharmacy to collect their vital medicines may mean a three-hour round trip,” Ms Walker said.

“With the ability to service people within a 130km range of Goondiwindi, this drone trial will provide enormous convenience and peace of mind for many of our customers.

“Importantly, we will learn a great deal from the trial, what works well, and what may need improving.

“We can use these learnings to not only fine tune the service to our community but also share with other regional TerryWhite Chemmart pharmacies around Australia who may be looking to investigate a drone delivery service.”

The project is being funded by EBOS Group, the parent entity of Symbion.

“Not only is this a very convenient option for the delivery of medicines for those living outside of ready access to their pharmacy but, as we saw during the terrible bushfires in Australia last summer, there were cases where road access to some homes and towns was completely shut off,” Symbion CEO Brett Barons said.

“To have a drone to provide deliveries of medicines could be of critical importance in situations where accessibility is limited.”

Eric Peck, CEO at Swoop Aero, said the company already has significant experience internationally in facilitating similar drone medicine delivery projects, and will bring those learnings and new innovations to the first Australian trial.

It has operated medical drone delivery networks in Malawi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique and Vanuatu to date.

“When we’re dealing with medicines, security and safety are obviously key considerations and Swoop Aero is firmly committed to ensuring that safety is our number one priority. That is why we have designed a full aviation system around our drone technology, which is unique in its ability to scale,” he said.

“The drone will fly in and out of a central point in Goondiwindi with the flight path fully automated and approved by CASA (Australia’s aviation regulator), deliver the customer’s products, then return to base ready for its next job. After a little training, it is very easy to operate.”

A 2018 trial where Chemist Warehouse was sending some medicines out by drone to suburbs in Canberra’s south caused consternation among some residents.

However Mr Peck said that, “Our experience overseas shows no disruption to communities as a result of transitioning to drone-based logistics”.

“Our aircraft do not have on board cameras filming in flight but are instead guided by a three tiered communications system consisting of mobile internet, satellite communications and Data Link.

“The sound of one of our drones taking off is similar to a bus starting its engine, and lasts for up to only 10 seconds until the plane reaches cruising altitude, at which point during normal cruise flight the noise is imperceptible over normal background noise.”

 Reaching speeds of 115kmp/h, the drone can withstand extremes in weather including 50kmp/h winds and heavy rain. It has a range of 130km on a single charge, ensuring it can reach anyone living within that radius of Goondiwindi.

“We can experience extreme weather conditions in Queensland especially during the summer storm season with occasional flooding and road closures,” said Ms Walker.

“The drone will provide a safe, convenient option to deliver medicines and most importantly ensure people in regional areas are serviced just as well as those living in town. I’m really excited for the residents of Goondiwindi and the surrounding region.”

Swoop Aero is currently working with CASA and the relevant State Authorities to ensure all requirements are met, with the launch of the service remaining subject to regulatory approvals.

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