Saskatoon drone company helping with Ukraine humanitarian efforts

A Saskatoon-based company is part of a project aimed at delivering medical supplies by way of drones to people in Ukraine during the Russian invasion.

CEO and president of Draganfly Cameron Chell says they’d been working on a project in Texas where drones deliver emergency medical supplies to remote areas when they were contacted by Revived Soldiers Ukraine, a non-profit group dedicated to providing aid to people in Ukraine.

“Somehow heard about the project, contacted our partner in Texas and said, 'Hey we need these drones. We have ambulances but they're either getting shot, confiscated, can't get through but we've got critical supplies that need to get into these tough-to-reach areas,'" Chell said.

Chell says Draganfly has already sent drones over to Ukraine and plans to send as many as 200 drones to help deliver supplies like blood, pharmaceuticals, epi-pens and AEDs by the end of the summer.

Equipment will be shipped from Canada to Poland, and then driven close to areas where they’re needed.

The drones will have a range of up to 20 kilometres and will be carrying a payload of about 35 pounds, which includes the supplies as well as a small refrigeration device supplied by Coldchain Delivery Services.

“They've got full visual and radio comms at that time to be able to bring the equipment in, drop it, and get the equipment back, but stay back five to seven miles or 10 kilometers out of harm's way,” he said.

“It can fly over an area and has an automatic, quick hover mode where it comes in, hovers for a few seconds three feet off the ground, drops the load and gets out quick. And so that way we're not requiring somebody to come out of maybe where they're sheltered or hiding or whatever the case may be until it's safe, and it also gets the drone out of there.”

Michael Wright, CEO of southern Ontario-based NuGen Medical Devices which specializes in needle-free injection technology, says he wanted to help after seeing a news report detailing the dwindling medical supply in Ukraine.

“They were going to run out of treatments and the ability to inject themselves, and running out of insulin within three months,” he said.

“If you're a type one diabetic, and some type two diabetics, if you're not getting your daily injection of insulin you might very well end up being a casualty of war as well.”

Wright says NuGen only manufactures the medical devices and not the insulin, so a GoFundMe was started to help cover the purchasing costs. So far they've raised almost $60,000 of the $250,000 goal.

“That's really to get the ball rolling, so we hope to be doing the first shipments into Ukraine for diabetes kits within a week or so.”

“It's almost just serendipitous,” Chell said of the companies coming together in the project.

“There's no question in my mind that not just Draganfly or drones and Revived Soldiers Ukraine are going to do some good and save some lives, but I'm sure that NuGen will do the same with the device that they have and the insulin that they're providing.”

Chell says Draganfly will also provide two other types of drones with thermal cameras that will be able to locate people that need help for rescue efforts, as well as potential threats.

“It's the combination of these three drones that we think are going to provide hopefully an effective humanitarian response,” he said.

Some drones are expected to be shot down or damaged, but Chell says it’s worth it to help.

“Who cares? Send another one. Send 10 more,” he said.

“When you're talking about not having to put an ambulance in there or people or personnel, but being able to drop equipment, a $15,000 to $30,000 drone is is inconsequential.”