Using drones to increase access to healthcare in remote communities

Drones for the Delivery of Medical Supplies, Equipment, Treatments, and Diagnostic Testing to Remote First Nations Communities

About the Project

COVID-19 has stressed an already overburdened healthcare system and its resourcesIn the face of a global pandemic, having rapid access to supplies such as personal protective equipment, diagnostic equipment and testing kits provides a greater ability to prevent, detect, and respond to COVID-19 outbreaks. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), commonly referred to as drones, may prove to be a valuable tool for healthcare services and remote communities in the battle against pandemics like COVID-19. Researchers at W21C, the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT), Alberta Health Services (AHS) and Alberta Precision Laboratories (APL) have partnered with the Stoney Nakoda Nations (SNN) to deliver medical equipment and test kits for COVID-19 to remote areas, and to connect these communities to laboratories more quickly using these remotely piloted aircraft.

Project Team: Wade Hawkins, SAIT; Dr. Andrew Kirkpatrick, MD, Alberta Health Services; Dr. Byron Berenger, MD, ProvLab Alberta; Aaron Khan, Stoney Health Services; Ryan Robb, Stoney Tribal Administration; Dr. John Conly, MD; Dr. Barry Baylis, MD; and Dr. Jaime Kauffman, PhD.


Currently in proof-of-concept, researchers are testing and refining the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) of the drones in locations with different terrain, environmental conditions, and distances. The SOP documents the team are creating have the potential to lay the groundwork for drone delivery across North America.

The first phase of drone delivery testing, containing personal protective equipment and COVID-19 test kits, has already been successfully completed. The project team has confirmed that COVID-19 nose and throat swabs survived the delivery and returned to a lab with no degradation. They have successfully delivered a portable ultrasound unit and are investigating its further applications. 

The project will soon be delivering flight school training modules for youth at SSN, with the goal of building the capacity for the local community to administer and coordinate future flights. 

Services Provided

  • Co-Design
  • Knowledge Translation
  • Stakeholder Engagement

Additional Content