‘Drones crucial for vaccinating country’s large population’: Hepicopter consortium

Hepicopter consortium drones can make 10 trips a day, deliver up to 5,000 vaccine doses per trip

September 15, 2021 10:43 pm | Updated September 16, 2021 08:44 am IST - HYDERABAD

Hepicopter Consortium team readies their drone for flying to the government healthcare facility in Vikarabad as part of the launch of ‘Medicine from the Sky’ project.

Hepicopter Consortium team readies their drone for flying to the government healthcare facility in Vikarabad as part of the launch of ‘Medicine from the Sky’ project.

It took the Hepicopter consortium, comprising Marut Drones and Public Health Foundation of India, an approximate two-minute drone sortie to reach a government healthcare facility in Vikarabad, three kilometres away.

The drone was equipped with a temperature-controlled modular box, which can carry a payload of vaccines, medicines, and eventually organs, and fly them to remote locations by simply entering coordinates in the system.

“The idea for the modular box came in 2015, at a time when the government had not yet warmed up to the idea. But the situation soon changed. In order to understand it, we studied Primary Health Centres (PHCs) in Nalgonda district and even the north eastern States and found many did not have easy access to them. Several States have around 50 PHCs in remote locations. Designing the temperature-controlled modular box entailed weighing essential medicine tablet strips, and we even entered volumes,” said Suresh Munuswamy, head-Technology Innovations and Health Informatics, adding that with the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccinating India’s population would require several million doses. This, he said, is not possible without drones.

Thus, a standardised dimension modular temperature controlled box of 20 cm x 20cm x 21 cm was developed. It has two insulation layers — one of foam and the second of chemical face change material. According to Dr Munuswamy, this design would allow more space for the payload as compared to ice-based vaccine carriers.

“We have developed a dashboard which records the inventory (of medicines or vaccines) held at the district hospital. Once a request for medicines or vaccines is placed from the PHC through an app, the delivery takes place. The entire flight is tracked and video is streamed. Once the PHC receives the payload, the drone autonomously starts its journey back,” said Prem Kumar Viswalath, founder, Marut Drones, adding that the intention all along has been to cater to all needs of PHCs, which is why it was decided to have a payload of at least 15 kg.

While Mr Viswalath says the drone was developed in-house, there was a need to have a system for long-range communications. This led to liaising with Alpha Design Technologies Limited (ADTL), an Adani Defense concern, which is part of the consortium.

“Taking ADTL’s help, we were able to have live video streaming of the flight path, and GPS location over long distances. All of this can be viewed at a command centre,” he said.

According to Mr Viswalath, Hepicopter consortium drones can fly a distance of 20 km to 40 km. Each drone can make 10 trips each day and deliver up to 5,000 vaccine doses per trip.

The Hepicopter consortium has planned flights to Dhannaram Sub Centre, Madgulchittampaly sub-centre, Sidduloor PHC, Mominpet PHC, Nagasamundar PHC, and Bomraspet PHC. Flights will cover a distance between 3 km and 26 km.

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