Seven consortia between logistics companies and drone operators have partnered with the Telangana Government for its “Medicine in the Sky” project, which aims to deliver COVID-19 vaccines and other essential healthcare items to remote places with the help of drones. The companies include logistics players like Mahindra Logistics, Blue Dart and Dunzo and drone operators like Sagar Defence and Marut Dronetech.
Recently, the Ministry of Civil Aviation granted Telangana government exemption from the UAS Rules 2021 and granted permission for conducting beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) drone operations. Apart from the Ministry of Civil Aviation permission, the Telangana government has got approval from the Airports Authority of India (AA), but is awaiting final approval from the Ministry of Home Affairs which is currently conducting a review.
Under Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) operations, the pilot of the drone has to maintain continuous, unaided visual contact with the unmanned aircraft, whereas under BVLOS drone operations pilots can operate a drone remotely, without the need to continuously be within visual range.
According to the Expression of Interest document of the “Medicine from Sky” project published by the Telangana government last year, each consortium is allowed to have a maximum of four partners comprising of drone vendors, UTM service provider, healthcare subject matter expert and supply chain subject matter expert.
It is important to note that a week ago, the Ministry of Civil Aviation exempted 20 entities from the UAS Rules 2021 and gave them permission to conduct beyond visual line of sight drone operations for a period of one year. Out of the 20, three — Dunzo Air Consortium, Sagar Defence, Marut Dronetech — are part of the Telangana government project.
MediaNama spoke to industry experts who said that the reason behind forming multiple consortia, is for the government to learn from the results of each and come up with a long-term plan for such projects. We have compiled a list of drone operation partners that the Telangana government is working with:
Covid-19 drone operations
As per the EoI, each consortium will demonstrate its drone delivering capabilities vaccines and other essential healthcare items at the local Area Hospital in Vikarabad district, just outside of Hyderabad. The Area Hospital will be the ‘take-off site’ and various Primary Health Care centres and sub-centres as the ‘landing sites’. The operations will last 24 days, and each consortia would be given a week to conduct on-ground recces before the start of the program.
Thereafter, the seven consortia would be divided into batches and each batch would perform the sorties for around a weeks time, with VLOS drones flights for the first two days, followed by BVLOS flights over longer distances for the rest of the time.
- Each drone will carry a combination of dummy vials and regular vaccines over the course of the trials
- Each drone will transport vaccine cold storage boxes equipped with temperature sensors and data loggers to record the performance.
- Performance would be recorded in detail and data shall be used to guide further policies regarding full-scale adoption.
On Thursday, logistics giant Blue Dart became the latest to join the Telangana Government’s project. It announced that it had formed the Blue Dart Med-Express Consortium and would provide assistance in terms of mapping the logistics route for providing safe, accurate and reliable pickup of medicines, COVID-19 vaccines, blood units, diagnostic specimens and so on from distribution centres to a specific location.
The company will also deliver resources, from district medical stories and blood banks, to primary health centres, community health centres, blood storage units and further from PHC/CHCs to Central Diagnostic Laboratories, it said.
The consortium, is their vehicle to enable safer, efficient and cost-effective drone delivery flights, said Ketan Kulkarni, Blue Dart’s Head of Business Development and Chief Marketing officer. “With efficient systems in place, it can help reduce the current logistics cost, making the healthcare logistics faster and efficient,” Kulkarni said. MediaNama reached out to Blue Dart with queries. Their responses are awaited.
Last year in October, Blue Dart announced that it was ramping up its infrastructure with its pre-existing specialised Temperature Controlled Logistics (TCL) to combat the pandemic. For vaccine transportation, temperatures up to – 80°C is required. The temperature-controlled logistics teams work with three industry-specific segments: Clinical Research Organization (CRO), Vaccine/Testing Kit manufacturers and Active Pharma Ingredient for swift and safe delivery of shipments.