NEW DELHI :
From 10 June, Redcliffe Labs will start using drones to carry medical test samples twice daily from its collection centres in the remote corners of Uttarkashi to its laboratories in Dehradun. By July-end, it will operate three flights a day, the company said.
Experts said the healthcare industry will be the first large-scale adopter of commercial drone delivery after the government liberalized rules for operating drones last August.
According to Redcliffe, the move will help the company reduce the duration of transporting test samples from six to eight hours via road to just 88 minutes. It is also looking to expand its services to the hilly regions in Himachal Pradesh, the Northeast and Ladakh, and is setting up a lab in Shimla to enhance coverage.
Skye Air Mobility is supplying drones to Redcliffe Labs. The drone delivery startup has partnered with 85% of organized diagnostic centres, including SRL Diagnostics and Redcliffe to deliver test samples and medicines by using drones. Besides, Skye Air is working with e-commerce and food delivery platforms.
“We are trying to do similar things at a commercial scale with Swiggy and Dunzo, who are planning to use drones in cities for delivering grocery,” said Ankit Kumar, chief executive, Skye Air. The first long-range demo flight for Redcliffe was conducted on 19 May, he said, adding that it will be up to 30% cheaper and take 80% less time to transport the product. “Delivery by road in the hilly regions takes eight to 10 hours. Drivers must also be paid for their service. Drones will allow multiple flights, and reduce costs on manpower and vehicle substantially,” Kumar said.
Vivek Jhunjhunwala, partner, Deloitte India, said 2022 will see drone usage becoming widespread in India. “We can see a spurt in delivery drones in 12-18 months.” The government is actively assisting with use-cases in healthcare sector, including delivery of vaccines, medicines and transporting human organs, he added.
Dheeraj Jain, founder, Redcliffe, said drones will more likely pick up in the hills where road travel takes longer. “We want to see large parts of the hills connected more regularly. We’re also trying to bring all of these package tests at a much cheaper price,” he said.
While drone deliveries have been in the works for a while, liberalized drone guidelines for commercial operators have facilitated adoption at a large scale. Drone Rules, 2021 had replaced the complex approval process required to fly drones beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS). Certification has also been made easier. Besides, the government is creating special corridors for drone delivery.
“Under the Drone (Amendment) Rules, 2022, commercial drone flyers do not require ‘remote pilot licence’ to legally fly. They simply require a remote pilot certificate, which can be issued by an authorized remote pilot training organization,” Jhunjhunwala said.
States are also running trials for commercial drone delivery. Telangana, for instance, conducted trials in September, using drones to transport medicines and vaccines on a 6 km flight path within five minutes.
Rama Devi Lanka, director of emerging technologies in the Telangana government, said another six-month pilot is being planned where drones will carry test samples, deliver medicines and vaccines in remote areas of Kothagudem district.
That said, using drones for commercial delivery for other industries can be more challenging. Anurag Dua, partner consulting, EY, said drone delivery in urban centres will be a different ball game. For drones that fly at a range of 300-500 feet, one concern will be to determine who owns the airspace above our home, he added. The Centre’s Digital Sky platform, which is a map that drone service providers need to navigate around cities, has been in the works for a while. It will not only help companies ascertain the flight corridor but also allow them to track drones and establish their legality.