June 14, 2021: To expand the medical supplies delivery model for inaccessible and remote areas through drones, a Business Today article reported that the central government has requested Expression of Interest (EoI) from leading Indian agencies for delivering COVID-19 vaccines and drugs by drones in various parts of the country.
Earlier, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) had conducted a successful feasibility test along with the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur. Based on the study, HLL Infra Tech Services, a full subsidiary of HLL Lifecare Ltd., has invited bids for medical drone delivery to farthest locations with tough terrain.The EoIs must be submitted through the Central Public Procurement Portal for medical drone delivery at various locations in India.
June 22 (within 1 pm) is the last date for submission of online bids through the Central Public Procurement Portal. The already submitted bids will be opened on the same day as well.
HLL Infra Tech commented in the bid document, “To strengthen the delivery of vaccines, ICMR successfully conducted a feasibility study to deliver vaccines by Uncrewed Aerial Vehicle (UAV) in collaboration with IIT, Kanpur. Based on the preliminary results of the study, ICMR has developed a standard protocol for the successful delivery of vaccines using a UAV".
The bid document also states requirements for drone operators, “The UAV operator shall be responsible for establishing, installing, operating and maintaining UAV based systems for delivery of medical supplies (vaccines/ drugs). Also, the UAV operator must adhere to safety guidelines as per the regulations by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) for operating BVLOS- UAV”. Moreover, ICMR may help the operators to get DGCA approval for this. However, a prior approval from DGCA for conducting BVLOS flights is preferred.
The application requirements mandates the following:
The flight path specifications include:
The drone operators will be engaged for 90 days, which can be extended depending upon the requirement of the programme and the performance of the operator.
This could be a great opportunity for experienced Indian agencies that specialise in drone deliveries. Applicants may see the bid document here for their convenience.
India is all set to witness its first Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) medical drone delivery experiment from June 18 at Gauribidanur, about 80kms from Bangalore. The city’s Throttle Aerospace Systems (TAS) will lead the consortium for BVLOS flights. The drones can fly for up to 20 km at a stretch and mark a first for India, which currently permits only drone flights within visual line of sight.
Also, an OpIndia article stated that the TAS will use two variants of MedCOPTER drone and delivery software named RANDINT. Dr. Devi Shetty, a renowned cardiac surgeon will provide the medicines to be used during the trials, as part of their partnership with Narayana Healthcare. Besides TAS, Invol-Swiss company will provide uncrewed traffic management systems and Honeywell Aerospace will provide safety expertise. This move may open up the opportunity to leverage commercial drone delivery operations in the future.
Apart from TAS, Daksha Uncrewed Systems will also test medicine deliveries via drones.
Earlier, Flipkart, India’s leading e-commerce giant partnered with the Telangana government for delivering Covid-19 vaccines and other essential items to remote areas in the state. As part of the ‘Medicines from the Sky’ project, BVLOS drone flights will be used for medicines and vaccine delivery to places where the infrastructure of the road does not support fast delivery of vaccines.
Drones have been delivering medical essentials in many countries around the world . For example, the charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) tested drones during a tuberculosis outbreak in Papua New Guinea in 2014, and to help tackle Ebola in Liberia.
In Rwanda, Zipline drones were used to deliver blood to rural clinics. Zipline drones have also been dropping off AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccines in Ghana, and will soon start delivering them in Rwanda and the United States. Botswana too began a medical drone delivery model recently to bring down maternal mortality.
With all the advancements, the future of drone delivery looks promising in India, even though the country is a little behind other countries like the US and Europe. With the right combination of rules, innovation, and experimentation, the Indian drone industry will soar to heights soon.