Drones could soon be used to transport medical supplies to remote Australian communities

Former airline pilot Tom Caska knows what it’s like to be grounded. He hasn’t flown a plane since breaking his neck in a kitesurfing accident in Far North Queensland in Cairns in 2013.
“I fell from the sky about seven to eight meters and landed on my head and broke the C7 vertebra,” said the 40-year-old.
“I fell unconscious on a sandbar and my kitesurfing gear pulled me into the water face down.
“Luckily a good friend of mine who also kitesurfed saw this happen. At first he thought I was dead.

“He knew basic first aid, so he didn’t move my neck. He put me on my back and lifted my head above the water.

Tom Caska was airlifted to hospital after fracturing his neck in a kitesurfing accident. Credit: Supplied Tom Caska

Mr. Caska is not just walking again, he is also doing marathons despite having plates that hold his neck in place with carbon fiber screws. He defied initial concerns that he would never be able to walk again.

“I’m very lucky to walk away from something like this and have another chance to reinvent myself. But I had lost a career, so everything in my life changed overnight. And that was enough. difficult to cross.
During the long rehabilitation phase, Mr. Caska took up flying drones.
“It’s not about flying an airplane, it’s about flying a machine,” he says.

“The aerodynamics are quite similar. A lot of technology is like being on a flight deck.

Tom Caska holding his drone in a park

Tom Caska with his drone in Sydney Credit: SBS News / Sandra Fulloon

In 2018, Mr. Caska took his drone even further by starting a company called Aerologix with colleague Rakesh Routhu. The platform connects drone pilots with customers and is described on its website as an “Uber for drones”.

One of its ongoing projects sees the company working with the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the University of NSW School of Aviation on a trial transport of high-value medical items in the NSW region.
“We are very happy to help regional and remote Australia, with the transport of medicines, vaccines and equipment using quite sophisticated drones,” Mr Caska said.

“We are aiming to start delivering medical supplies later this year, particularly to Indigenous communities in western New South Wales.”

We aim to start delivering medical supplies later this year, particularly to Indigenous communities in Western New South Wales.

Tom Caska, Aerologix

Mr Routhu ran a drone business in India and emigrated to Australia in 2018 to earn a Master of Business Administration (MBA) scholarship at the University of New South Wales, where he and Mr Caska met . Mr. Routhu now lives in Brisbane and oversees Aerologix’ technical team based in Bangalore.

“Aerologix uses state-of-the-art technology to support drone pilots and customers. We also source and supply state-of-the-art technology to improve pilot workflow and ensure accuracy,” he said.

Rakesh Routhu standing in a seaside park in Sydney

Rakesh Routhu in Sydney. Credit: SBS News / Sandra Fulloon

Trialing medical supplies closes a full career circle for Mr Caska, who started flying for Broome Air Services as a young pilot.

“We often flew medical supplies and pharmaceuticals to remote Indigenous communities in light aircraft, at a cost of around $5,000 per trip plus charter fees,” he says.

“So a drone delivery is a much more economical and sustainable way to deploy from a regional hub than sending a light aircraft.”

For the trial, Aerologix is ​​importing commercial drones costing around $200,000 each from Germany. The drones will be based in Dubbo and will be able to travel up to 250 kilometers in total for a round trip, reaching speeds of 140 kilometers per hour.
“These journeys are too short for a Royal Flying Doctor Service but, at the same time, too far for an ambulance,” says Mr Caska.
These new drones are more robust than cheaper hobby models, with a wingspan of three and a half meters. They can carry a payload of up to seven kilograms, making multiple deliveries in a single trip, says Caska.
Dr Catherine Ball of the Australian National University says using drones to deliver medical supplies to remote communities can save lives.
“Imagine you’re in a rural community and you’re literally hours away from the nearest nursing station or doctor. How do you get medicine, defibrillators or EpiPens to someone who might need them very quickly? »

“Someone who is very sick and may be doing chemotherapy in a regional area may need antibiotics very quickly. So their doctor can just put the medicine on a drone and stream it.

Business partners Tom Caska sitting with Rakesh Routhu

Business partners Tom Caska and Rakesh Routhu. Credit: SBS News / Sandra Fulloon

Dr Ball says several applications of drone technology are being tested in Australia.

“We have people testing medical and blood deliveries in the Northern Territory.
“We have people in Torres Strait using drones to observe coastal erosion and Indigenous rangers in Cape York using drones and artificial intelligence to identify rock art, which is then mapped by an archaeologist. helping to preserve it for future generations.”

Drones at the service of farmers

Commercial drones can also represent a carbon-friendly way to open up the skies for a range of commercial uses, including agriculture.
During the current rural labor shortage, drones can save farmers time and money, according to Professor Andrew Robson of the University of New South Wales.
“If you don’t have farm labor, drones are a way to save your crop from disaster.
“Drones give farmers a specific view of their land, rather than traversing their property looking for leaking irrigators or dead trees or pest incursions.

“Drones also capture images with clear resolution – which can be particularly useful during periods of heavy rain and cloud cover when satellite information is limited.”

NSW RFS crews rescue people from rising flood waters.

Drones have been used to help emergency services save people from rising flood waters. Credit: NSW Rural Fire Service

During recent flooding in northern New South Wales, drones were used to assess damage in areas still too dangerous for larger aircraft or with limited road access.

“We were able to assign some of our pilots and get aerial vision back to first responders, where the helicopters couldn’t even take off because the weather was so bad,” Caska said.
“We could assess how many roofs have been ripped off, how many people are stuck.

“The drones gave us a high-quality aerial view of the area, and they were basically transmitting information instantaneously.”

Tom Caska and Rakesh Routhu flying a drone in a Sydney park

Tom Caska and Rakesh Routhu flying a drone in Sydney. Credit: SBS News / Sandra Fulloon

Aerologix’s online network now has 10,000 pilots across Australia. Many of these pilots lost their income during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It was an amazing way to help airline pilots through Covid when they lost their careers. And I felt really good about giving back,” Caska says.
Aerologix takes 20-40% of the fees, which means drone pilots can earn between $80 and $150 per hour.

It was also recently integrated with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) digital sky platform, meaning its iOS and Android apps from Aerologix ingest weather updates from CASA, location-based information and maps showing where pilots can and cannot fly.

Tom Caska in the cockpit of a light aircraft

Tom Caska during his flying days. Credit: Supplied Tom Caska

Aerologix has just completed a fundraising of 4.2 million dollars. The capital will be used to invest in additional research and development and to expand the company’s commercial team.

Although Australian airlines are back in business, Mr Caska says many pilots have continued to fly drones.
“We have quite a few airline pilots who can get five days off between international flights, and they’re happy to set up their drone and earn a little extra cash on the side,” Caska said.
And with global expansion plans, for this company, it seems like the sky is the limit.
“We want to create the largest drone ecosystem in the world,” says Routhu.
“At the same time,” adds Caska, “we want to find ways to give back to the community.”
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