The Telangana government's initiative 'Medicine from the Sky' was launched on Saturday, 11 September, to deliver medicines to remote areas using drones. Union Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiradtiya Scindia formally launched the project in Vikarabad, under which drugs and vaccines will be delivered using drones.
The project will be taken up on a pilot basis in 16 green zones in Telangana and scaled up to the national level based on data. Under the green zone, no permission is needed to fly drones, whereas permissions are needed in yellow zone while red zones are no-fly areas.
The first drone delivered a 5 kg box of vaccine doses to a community health centre located 3 kilometre away in 10 minutes.
'Medicine from the Sky' is an initiative of Telangana in partnership with the World Economic Forum, NITI Aayog, and HealthNet Global (Apollo Hospitals).
The project was launched on experimental Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) drone flights for the delivery of vaccines using the identified airspace of the Vikarabad district. BVLOS drone flights are those that go beyond 500-700 metre from the eye's vision or beyond the visual line of sight.
"In 16 Green Zones, this 'Medicines from the Sky' project will be taken up. The data will be analysed for three months. We along with the Health Ministry, IT Ministry, state government and the Centre will together analyse the data and make a model for the whole country. Today is a revolutionary day not only for Telangana but for the whole country," the minister said.
Telangana Minister for IT and Industries KT Rama Rao said, “Through the drones, we can save lives; it will help transport vaccines and also blood by avoiding traffic. These drones can cover 6 km in five minutes and reach a Primary Health Centre (PHC). We have seen instances where traffic has to be blocked to make way for ambulances to transport organs. Through these drones, we will be able to transport blood and even organs faster."
KT Rama Rao also requested the union minister to establish an aviation university or centre of excellence at Begumpet airport in Hyderabad.
Launching the project, Scindia said that the new drone policy brought out by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government recently eased rules regarding drone operations in the country by reducing the number of forms that need to be filled to operate them from 25 to 5 and decreasing the types of fees charged by the operator from 72 to 4. He further said that an interactive aerospace map is being prepared. With the help of the map, various zones are being earmarked with the help of states.
Tech start-up Skye Air is part of a consortium for the project. It has joined hands with BlueDart Express to provide drone-based delivery and drone flights to conduct these trials. Blue Dart, in a regulatory filing, said it is proud to be given the first opportunity amongst various consortiums to initiate the drone trials. The Consortium has successfully commenced Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) drone delivery trials, it said in the filing.
The Blue Dart Med-Express Consortium drone delivery trials currently involve the delivery of vaccines from Vikarabad to the primary health centre in Sidduloor using a multi-rotor drone, the company said in the filing.
A total of six-seven trials for VLOS operations (up to 1 km) and four-five trials for BVLOS operations (up to 9 km) were conducted per day. Operated by remote pilots, the drone can travel up to 10 km in a single run, at a speed of 32 km per hour.
These drones can even handle Blue Dart's specialised temperature-controlled shipments with a payload of up to 5 kgs and are equipped to pick up and deliver the shipment from the distribution centre to the towns that need the medical supplies and vice versa, the company said.
(Published in an arrangement with The News Minute.)