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Swoop Aero is trialling chemist prescription deliveries in outback Queensland by drone

- February 22, 2021 2 MIN READ
Swoop Aero CEO Eric Peck trains health staff on how to load cargo into the drone. Photo: Luke Dempsey
Medicine delivery service Swoop Aero has come home after proving the success of its idea in Africa and Pacific to begin delivering medicine by drone in outback Queensland

Former air force pilot Eric Peck and mechatronics engineer Josh Tepper founded the Melbourne-based startup in 2017 to deliver on-demand healthcare by autonomous air vehicles in challenging environments. It made a world-first commercial delivery of vaccines by drone in a trial with UNICEF and the Vanuatu Government in 2018 and the following year began delivering Ebola vaccines in the Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa, expanding the project to Mozambique and Malawi too.

They’re now turning their attention to remote Australia in partnership with healthcare wholesaler, Symbion, and TerryWhite Chemmart

The network will deliver medicines to customers within a 130km range of Goondiwindi on the Queensland-NSW border.

TerryWhite Chemmart Goondiwindi pharmacist Lucy Walker said many of her customers living on farms or small towns in outlying areas would have to make a three-hour round trip to visit the pharmacy otherwise.

“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,” she said.

“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.”

Eric Peck, Swoop Aero’s CEO, said the drone will fly in and out of a central point in Goondiwindi with the flight path fully automated and approved by Australia’s aviation regulator, CASA.

“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,” he said.

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

The drone can withstand extremes in weather including 50kmh winds and heavy rain, with a top speed of 115kmh. It has a range of 130km on a single charge.

The project is being funded by Symbion’s parent company EBOS Group and Symbion CEO Brett Barons said medicine delivery in areas where accessibility is limited is critically important.

“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,” he said.

Swoop Aero is currently working with CASA and state authorities, with the launch of the service remaining subject to regulatory approvals.