Drone program for delivering medical supplies to remote B.C. First Nation takes flight

A new drone delivery project is officially underway in a remote Northern B.C. First Nation.

The University of British Columbia has partnered with the Stellat’en First Nation and Drone Delivery Canada in a 12-month project to deliver medical supplies with DDC’s sparrow drone.

The deliveries, which will consist of pharmaceuticals and COVID-19 tests, will go to both Stellat’en First Nation and the Village of Fraser Lake, roughly 100 kilometres west of Prince George.

The study will help determine if the newly named “Sky medic” drone can successfully transport the supplies through the elements of rural and remote areas.

“As this is a four-season project, were going to learn about how well the drone can perform under certain weather conditions,” said UBC chair of rural health, Dr. John Pawlovich.

"We need to understand how the institution of UBC can embed itself both physically and virtually into rural, remote and Indigenous communities in this province."

Stellat’en First Nation Chief Robert Michell says they’re excited to be included in such a unique initiative.

"When new technology comes into play in Canada, First Nations communities are usually at the back of the bus, we don't get to be participants in the technology until after, but this is brand new and we're at the forefront,” said Michell.

Michell says the pandemic has had a serious impact on many of their members, and that the deliveries will be a huge help.

"It allows some flexibility for some of our members that are not very mobile within the community to receive these supplies after participating in virtual health," Michell said.

While DDC, which is based in Vaughn, Ont., has previously taken part in several delivery projects to remote First Nation, this will be its first in B.C.

"They often lack the same ... infrastructure, and people might not realize that they're actually more susceptible to a pandemic because of greater underlying health-care issues, so it's very important for us to do these projects,” said DDC CEO Michael Zahra.

The project is being funded by a 2020 TD Ready Challenge grant of $750,000.