Home » Life-saving medical drones to land at Mater Springfield

Life-saving medical drones to land at Mater Springfield

Daniel Bouwmeester    March 7, 2023    4 min read   

In a national first, Mater Pathology has partnered with Australian drone logistics company Swoop Aero to fly vital medical testing supplies to residents of the Moreton Bay islands, beginning this year.

The fleet of 10 drones will shuttle as many as 80,000 vital blood and swab samples per year to and from the testing labs at Mater Private Hospital Springfield, reducing waiting times by up to six hours.

Mater Group’s Director of Innovation Maree Knight characterised the new partnership as a clear demonstration of the Queensland company’s leadership in healthcare advancements.

“The use case for pathology-sample drone transport is clear,” Ms Knight said.

“[It] will alleviate pressures on the health system to deliver timely, effective, and quality healthcare.”

It is Australia’s first ever drone-powered pathology collection network.

Future initiatives could include the delivery of Mater Pharmacy medicines to aged care homes, depending on the success of the pilot program, Ms Knight said.

Such an integration of health and technology reveals the far-reaching and life-changing potential that exemplifies the bold philosophy central to Springfield’s master development strategy.

Starting in 2023, the network will primarily benefit patients living on Stradbroke Island, Russell Island, and Macleay Island, who receive care through the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Health Service (ATSICHS).

Mater Pathology General Manager Deb Hornsby said turning to bi-directional drones was urgently needed to match the skyrocketing demand for blood tests in the post-COVID era, especially in remote locations.

“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,” Ms Hornsby said.

“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.”

“Queenslanders were among the first in the world to have drone delivery services back in 2020 when Wing launched in Logan. It’s so exciting to see the expansion into our Greater Springfield area.”

The state government launched Australia’s first-ever ‘Drone Strategy’ in 2019.

Jordan MP Charis Mullen said: “We are already leading the way in drone technology across a number of industries, including defence, agriculture, mining and manufacturing.”

“These new delivery services, both in retail and health logistics, will see even more jobs created for drone pilots in our region.”

Swoop Aero CEO Eric Peck said the program is “the next giant leap” in essential health services delivery.

“We have a big vision for Queensland,” Mr Peck said.

“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.”

The “Kite” model can travel over 175 kilometres on a single battery charge, with each drone carrying up to 4.5kg of medical cargo, Mr Peck explained.

In terms of safety, the drones operate “well below” commercial aircraft altitudes, although they currently await FAA type certification and flight path approval from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

Top: A Swoop Aero medical drone. Above: CEO Eric Peck. All images: Swoop Aero.

Mr Peck, a former Royal Australian Air Force captain, co-founded Swoop Aero in 2017 with robotics engineer Josh Tepper, and they have since secured approvals from 14 countries and achieved more than 20,000 operational flights.

In Vanuatu, they gained the world’s first ever tender for medical supply drone delivery, funded by the Australian Government’s innovationXchange grant and UNICEF, meeting the needs of 20% of children who live on remote islands without reliable vaccine access.

Last year, Swoop Aero partnered with Terry White Chemists in Goondiwindi, Queensland, to transport routine prescriptions to remote patients.

Mater and Swoop Aero are jointly seeking additional support for the pilot project and future programs, such as through the Emerging Aviation Technology Partnership (EATP) federal grant.

Daniel Bouwmeester

Daniel was born in a mining town in New South Wales to Dutch and Welsh immigrants, before relocating to Logan City, where he attended Canterbury College for twelve years. He pursued his passion for music by completing a first-class honours degree at the University of Queensland (UQ), and later signed with a local record label. He has travelled the world from a young age, including a student exchange in rural France, a job working the ski lifts in Colorado, and visits to the islands of the South Pacific. After a six-year career in market research, Daniel returned to UQ to complete a Bachelor of Journalism and Arts dual degree, majoring in political science. His varied experiences at home and abroad have contributed to a passion for spreading good news while defending the truth buried inside complex societal paradigms.