Octocoptered: Bengaluru sees its first Covid vaccine delivery using a drone
The NAL's octocopter can carry a payload of 15 kg, boasts of a hovering endurance of 40 minutes, and can fly at an operational altitude of 500 metres at a maximum speed of 36 km/hour.
BENGALURU: At precisely 9.53 am on Saturday, the staff at Haragadde Public Health Centre (PHC) in Anekal on Bengaluru's outskirts were pleasantly surprised to see a multi-copter unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) land at their premises with 50 vials of Covid-19 vaccines and syringes in a special container from Chandapura PHC, in Bengaluru Urban district about six kilometres from Electronics City. The distance of seven kilometres was covered in 10 minutes, instead of the 40 minutes it would have taken by road.
This was the first successful demonstration of delivery of vaccines using a drone in Bengaluru, opening up avenues for a series of similar beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) autopilot flights for last-mile delivery of medicines, vaccines, food, postal packets, and even human organs to and from remote areas.
The National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL), under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), has developed the indigenous, medium-class BVLOS multi-copter UAV, made of light-weight carbon fibre foldable structure for ease of transportation. It has unique features like autonomous guidance through dual redundant Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS)-based digital autopilot with advanced flight instrumentation systems.
The NAL's octocopter can carry a payload of 15 kg, boasts of a hovering endurance of 40 minutes, and can fly at an operational altitude of 500 metres at a maximum speed of 36 km/hour. Saturday's demo saw the octocopter drone flying at 300 metres altitude at speeds of 10m/sec. After the delivery of vaccines at Haragadde, the octacopter returned to the Chandapura PHC.
The Ministry of Civil Aviation had granted conditional permission to CSIR-NAL for conducting BVLOS flight trials with regulatory compliance, which includes the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA)-No Permission, No Takeoff (NPNT). All such flights need permission from the digital sky platform to fly via a mobile app, failing which they will not be able to operate. The drone is equipped with geo-fencing and digital sky with 360-degree collision avoidance, making it one of the best UAVs in its class.
The NAL has teamed up with Karnataka's Health & Family Welfare department for aerial delivery of Covid-19 vaccines in remote areas.
The drone is integrated with a powerful onboard embedded computer and latest generation sensors for versatile applications like agricultural pesticide spraying, crop monitoring, mining survey, magnetic geo survey mapping etc.
Dr PV Satyanaraya Murthy, Head UAV, CSIR-NAL, said the octocopter for delivery of vaccines is the need of the hour in India for deeper penetration of vaccines in remote areas.
"The NAL octocopter is perfectly designed for such missions and is easy to operate by unskilled operators. NAL has already tied up with private firms for drone manufacturing and offering operational services," he said.