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Stellat’en medical supply drone project sets groundwork to expand in northern B.C.

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A medical supply drone pilot project at the Stellat’en First Nation in northern B.C. is in its second year now and Chief Robert Michell sees potential to expand.

UBC Faculty of Medicine Drone Transport Initiative Project Manager Sandy Lee explained the pilot started small, transporting medication and lab specimens between Stellat’en and the adjacent Village of Fraser Lake.

That’s only about a seven-minute drone flight but the idea is much bigger. The idea is to build a medical supply model for remote communities that can be replicated across B.C. and Canada — to improve rural and remote access to healthcare.

“The purpose of this project is that it allows for some new processes to be created which allows us to then expand a network of drones,” Lee said.

The drone is autonomous which means it flies automatically along a predetermined path between landing sites.

The project got underway last year as many northern communities were locked down because of the COVID-19 pandemic — allowing residents to have their medication delivered and samples tested without leaving Stellat’en.

Michell also sees potential for the technology to expand beyond that — like by getting supplies to emergency situations on the ground.

“There are so many areas where it can grow and we’re looking at that. We’re at the forefront of the drone program and we’re looking at other avenues to use the drones,” Michell said.

“We’ve had incidents in the past like drownings and missing persons and I think drone technology would go a long way in helping with that.”

Michell said the First Nation is encouraging other communities, some of which are more isolated than Stellat’en, to look at the project.

“We’re setting the groundwork and we’re hoping it catches on for the medical community.”

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