The government of Telangana in collaboration with Apollo Hospitals and the World Economic Forum has formalised the plan for a six-month pilot called ‘Medicines from the Sky’, starting in 2020. The project aims to explore the use of drones to increase access to healthcare for communities across the Telangana state.
Following discussions at the WEF’s India Economic Summit 2019, the Telangana government has adopted a new framework to implement drones for last-mile delivery of blood and medical samples in the state. The framework outlines key factors in evaluating drone operations and the technical requirements for each use case.
This framework will be implemented by integrating drones into the state’s healthcare supply chain. It’s envisioned to become the base for the pilot project and eventually be converted into a request for proposal.
Timothy Reuter, head of aerospace and drones, World Economic Forum said the system could end up saving many lives in Telangana. “It outlines what challenges drones can solve, how to oversee operations and how to implement them. We are looking forward to the next steps of this project,” he added.
The WEF has also worked with other countries around the world to experiment with drones for last-mile delivery in the past five years. One of the major examples of this in Rwanda, where the experiments matured into national-scale implementations.
Through drones, Rwanda had reportedly cut the delivery time of medical goods from four hours to fifteen minutes, in some cases, and saved thousands of lives in the process. This would immensely benefit remote regions in Telangana and any other states that have similar pilots running. In addition to working with the Telangana government, WEF is also working with states such as Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka to draw in more investments in the agriculture value chains, said WEF, head of operations, Sarita Nayyar.
Commenting on why the WEF thinks India holds ample opportunity for such futuristic aerospace projects, the forum’s Harrison Wolf told Inc42, “The workforce in India is well tuned to technology applications and is highly educated as compared to other such localities. The open and local governance in India is also very enabling for the project.”
Further, to create an ecosystem for drone applications, WEF has collaborated with multiple drone startups which also include Indian startups such as Marut Drones, India Flying Labs, Asteria, Adani, Aarav Unmanned Systems, IO Techworld, and Ideaforge. Marut Drones, India Flying Labs and GEN India are specifically contributing to the ‘Medicines from the Sky’ project.
“Telangana has been a pioneer in using technology for improving the lives of the citizens. Using drones to deliver blood and other medical goods to people in remote and inaccessible areas is an exemplary project that demonstrates the use of technology for the social good,” K.T. Rama Rao, the state’s IT minister.
He added that the project could become a reference model for other states looking at drone applications around healthcare in India.
Earlier this year, a similar drone delivery project was announced by the Maharashtra government in partnership with California-based medical product delivery company Zipline. The Maharashtra government’s drone delivery network is expected to become operational in early 2020.
Through this initiative, the Maharashtra government has aimed to put almost all of its 120 Mn citizens within minutes of a lifesaving delivery via drones. The drones will be used to make on-demand deliveries of blood products, vaccines and life-saving medications.
Indian Govt’s Push For Drone Technology
According to a global market intelligence and advisory firm BIS Research, the Indian drone market is expected to be valued at $885.7 Mn by 2021, while the global opportunity is estimated to touch $21.47 Bn during this period.
In September 2018, the ministry of civil aviation (MoCA) legalised flying commercial drones. Following which it released the draft note for Drone Regulations 2.0 in 2019, which had proposed regulations for operation of drones in public spaces, particularly the ones implemented at a commercial scale.
Recognising the potential impact of civic drones and the growing market opportunity, India’s science and technology ministry announced a government project last month to digitally map the country with a resolution of 10 cm, using drones and technologies such as artificial intelligence and big data.
With an outlay of INR 1000 Cr, the project will also be mapping the entire Ganga basin from the source to its end, 25 km from either side of the banks with an accuracy of 10 cm. “The need to have a digital map of India was felt as it would enable better decision making in the government. The map will have all types of records including land details, socio-economic data, road network, etc,” the ministry’s Ashutosh Sharma had earlier said.
Earlier in June, India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation, which is the body that regulates civil aviation, has certified two Bengaluru-based drone startups, Skylark Drones and Throttle Aerospace Systems, after they complied with the NP-NT (no permission, no takeoff) protocol under the country’s new drone policy. Additionally, under the Small drone category, just one drone maker — Aarav Unmanned Systems — has received official clearance.
Critics of India’s drone policy claim that government is holding back the sector’s growth by putting in place too much regulation — many drone startups are awaiting clearance for their models as well as take-off licenses, which has stifled the overall growth of the drone startup ecosystem to a large extent. In addition, drone applications which take the unmanned aerial vehicles beyond the visual line of sight are not even on the radar of the government.