Drone logistics network operator Swoop Aero has penned a partnership with Mater Pathology to shuttle medical samples including blood tests and COVID-19 swabs from Southeast Queensland's Moreton Bay islands to testing labs via drones.
The partnership is expected to slash up to six hours off the time it takes for samples to reach Mater for testing, with the bi-directional network expected to collect more than 80,000 pathology samples a year.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Health Service patients and those living on Stradbroke Island, Russell Island, Macleay Island and other Moreton Bay islands serviced by Mater, as well as the Redlands and Hope Island on the Gold Coast will benefit from the drone service.
The news comes four months after Melbourne-based Swoop Aero raised $16 million in a Main Sequence-led Series B, with the funds there deployed to scale its networks in Africa, Southeast Asia, Oceania and Europe, as well as expanding its local manufacturing capabilities.
It also builds on work already done by Swoop Aero to transport medical supplies to and from remote communities; the company commenced operations in Goondiwindi, Queensland in 2021 to transport routine prescriptions to patients in the region.
Mater Pathology general manager Deb Hornsby says the partnership represents Australia’s first drone-enabled pathology collection network, and will realise the ‘next giant leap’ in how essential supplies and services are delivered.
“Depending on ferry services, it can take up to six hours to get samples for testing back to Mater from Straddie and the other islands,” Hornsby explains.
“With the huge increase in testing caused by COVID, there was a pressing need to speed up our collection services – and that’s when we approached Swoop Aero.
“Drones are safe, reliable and so much faster than ferries and cars – which means we save valuable time in diagnosing and treating vulnerable patients.”
Founded in 2017 by CEO Eric Peck and CTO Joshua Tepper, Swoop Aero has facilitated more than 20,000 operational flights and is approved to fly in 14 countries.
The company will use its fleet of ‘Kite’ aircraft to shuttle the samples once certified to do so, with the drones able to travel distances of more than 175kms on a single battery charge and can carry almost 5kgs of cargo.
“We have a big vision for Queensland,” says Swoop Aero CEO Eric Peck.
“By leveraging the most advanced technology-based platform on the market, Swoop Aero will unlock the skies to enable Mater to drive forward the next era of pathology transportation.
“Mater and Swoop Aero are seeking federal support for the pilot project through an Emerging Aviation Technology Partnership (EATP) Grant. If successful, drones will be flying across Moreton Bay in 2023 and future initiatives could include the delivery of medicines to aged care homes by Mater Pharmacy.”
Once flight path approvals are obtained from the Civil Aviation Authority, the drones will land in Greater Springfield for testing in the Mater Pathology laboratories at Mater Private Hospital Springfield.
“Mater is at the forefront of healthcare innovation in Queensland,” says Mater’s Director of Innovation Maree Knight.
“The use case for pathology-sample drone transport is clear and will alleviate pressures on the health system to deliver timely, effective and quality healthcare.”
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