First Nation in northern B.C. launches pilot project to deliver medical supplies by drone
Stellat’en First Nation collaborates with UBC, village of Fraser Lake in a $750K initiative
Stellat'en First Nation Chief Robert Michell says he's excited about a pilot project that uses drones to deliver medicine to his remote community in northern B.C.
The First Nation is part of the $750,000 Remote Communities Drone Transportation Initiative — a collaborative project conceived in January with the University of British Columbia faculty of medicine and the village of Fraser Lake — to make medical services more accessible to rural areas during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The project's first drone took off on Wednesday afternoon, flying about four kilometres to carry health-care supplies from the village of Fraser Lake to the nearby Indigenous community, located about 100 kilometres north of Prince George, B.C.
"What we anticipate … is the transportation of medication, the transportation of prescription and other types of needs that our community may require," Michell told CBC's Andrew Kurjata.
"Members do not have transportation, and then with the influx of the COVID pandemic, it even restricts their movement … to pick up the medicine supply," the chief added.
Michael Zahra — the president and chief executive officer of Drone Delivery Canada, the company that supplies drones for the pilot project — says the aircraft are about a metre long and a metre wide.
"The cargo is inside the drone, which is particularly important for high value or high risk cargo," Zahra said. "It's got access control and security cameras and barcode scanners and a weather station and a variety of things, so it's a turnkey solution and it's a very safe and secure model."
Zahra's company has provided medical supply drones to three First Nations in Ontario. He says the aircraft could help reduce Indigenous elders' stress by cutting down on commutes for medical services.
"What we've found in a lot of First Nations communities is they would use alternative methods like a ferry or even a very expensive helicopter, and they would take somebody from the community. Very stressful for the person. Very expensive, very inefficient.
"With a drone, you don't have to deal with seasonal roads and traffic jams and availability of a ferry, and these sorts of things," he said.
UBC says Stellat'en First Nation members are being trained to load and monitor drone operations. Should the pilot project be successful, it may be expanded to more isolated parts of the province.
With files from Andrew Kurjata and Daybreak North