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Exclusive | Centre May Soon Fly Drones to Deliver Covid Vaccines in 'Hard to Reach' Areas, Bids Invited

·3-min read

The Centre has come up with a novel plan to deliver Covid-19 Vaccines by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to areas in the country with difficult terrains, after a study by the Indian Institute of Technology, (IIT) Kanpur said it is feasible.

The HLL Infra Tech Services Limited, a subsidiary of Government-owned HLL Lifecare which is procuring all vaccines in the country for the government, has on the behalf of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) invited an Expression of Interest (EOI) on Friday (June 11) for delivery of vaccines and drugs by UAVs to select locations in India which have difficult terrains. So far, only Telangana was toying with this idea of UAV vaccine delivery.

UAVs have been sought by ICMR which can travel upto 35 kms with the supplies and fly at an altitude of at least 100 meters. News18 has a copy of the document, which invites bids by June 22. “To strengthen the delivery of vaccines, ICMR has successfully conducted a feasibility study to deliver vaccines by UAVs in collaboration with IIT, Kanpur,” the bid document mentions.

ICMR has developed a standard protocol on basis of that study for the successful delivery of vaccines using a UAV and is now looking to develop a model for vaccine delivery by UAV in the field practice area “to reach inaccessible (hard to reach) areas to cover last-mile coverage at difficult terrain in selected locations”, the EOI says.

How the UAVs Will Work

As per specifications spelt out by the Centre, the UAV should take off vertically, carry a minimum payload of four kilograms and should be capable of returning home or the command station after delivery of the payload. “Take off and landing will be as per DGCA guidelines. Parachute-based delivery will not be preferred,” the document says, adding the UAV must land safely with the vaccines.

The UAV must be enabled for constant tracking, navigation and communication with the base station. “UAV should be able to follow a predefined flight plan and have real-time visibility of adherence to flight plan. The UAV must follow fully autonomous take-off, flight and landing along GPS way-points,” the document has specified.

UAV must have multiple fail-safe options and follow DGCA norms.

The Genesis of the Idea

Senior officials said with the vaccination exercise spreading far and wide to rural areas, it is anticipated that supply of vaccines to mountainous regions and remote areas could become a challenge. “The ICMR has always attempted to address itself to the growing demands of scientific advances in biomedical research on the one hand and to the need of finding practical solutions to the health problems of the country, on the other,” the bid document says.

Hence, ICMR is looking to engage UAV operators to operate “Beyond Visual Line of Site (BVLOS)” in fixed pre-defined and pre-approved flight paths and deliver Medical Supply payloads like Vaccines and drugs to selected locations in India and return to the command station. “The UAV operator must adhere to safety guidelines as per the regulations of DGCA and a prior approval from DGCA will be preferred,” the bid document says.

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