Canadian researchers investigate drone delivery of medical supplies to remote communities during the pandemic


Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), commonly referred to as drones, may prove to be a valuable tool in the battle against pandemics like COVID-19. Researchers at the University of Calgary, the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT), Alberta Health Services (AHS) and Alberta Precision Laboratories (APL) are partnering with the Stoney Nakoda Nations (SNN) to deliver medical equipment and test kits for COVID-19 to remote areas, and to connect these communities to laboratories more quickly using these remotely piloted aircraft.

Access for all

“We know that testing for COVID-19 is one of our most effective tools against its spread. Many remote communities in Canada do not have easy access to testing centres and medical supplies to support rapid testing and containment. Drones can help us respond to that need,” says Dr. John Conly, MD, medical director of the W21C Research and Innovation Centre at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) and co-principal investigator on the project.

By chance, Conly met Wade Hawkins, the lead researcher at SAIT’s Centre for Innovation and Research in Unmanned Systems (CIRUS), during a lunch break at a medical conference in November 2019. Together they dreamed up the idea of drone delivery of medical supplies to remote sites across Alberta. The pandemic pressed their idea into immediate action.

“In many areas of Canada, drones must be guided and monitored with the assistance of line of sight,” says Hawkins, co-principal investigator on the project. “We hope to move beyond visual line of sight and fly from a lab or health centre directly to a remote community.”