Forget about over-the-counter medications — London Drugs Ltd. is now using drones to test over-the-ocean options.
The Richmond-based retailer revealed Thursday (August 29) the completion of what it says is Canada’s first-ever Beyond Visual Line-of-Sight (BVLOS) flight carrying pharmaceuticals.
BVLOS allows drones to be operated remotely, opening up commercial opportunities as pilots may be stationed at offices to monitor unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) that run mostly autonomously.
Last year Transport Canada selected London Drugs, Canada Post and B.C. drone firm InDro Robotics Inc. to partner on commercial capabilities for UAVs.
The successful flight began August 19 on Vancouver Island at a London Drugs facility in Duncan, B.C., travelling a very short distance over the Pacific before reaching Salt Spring Island six kilometres away.
“There’s a number of regulatory hoops that we had to jump through,” InDro Robotics CEO Philip Reece.
BLOVS required approvals from Transport Canada and the drone’s flight near controlled airspace required approvals from Nav Canada.
London Drugs, meanwhile, had to get permission from the College of Pharmacists of B.C. to transport the drugs via the aerial payload carrying narcan and an epinephrine (epi) pen.
To do that, the team had to develop a tamper-proof package in which to carry the drugs.
“It’s been a natural progression — sort of crawl, walk, run,” Reece said, referring to conducting BVLOS flights in different situations.
“We’ve covered a fair distance before but not carrying this kind of payload.”
He said the flight represents a big advancement in commercialization for drone services.
“The next step beyond this is even more exciting,” Reece said.
“Maybe in the not-so-distance future we’ll have an app built … where you’re out on a trail, you get stung by a bee and you need that epi pen straight away, you go into your app, select the epi pen option and maybe it’s dispatched from a London Drugs store.”
Chris Chiew, London Drugs' general manager of pharmacy, said in a statement that the ability to provide medications to patients in remote areas is significant.
"In the very near future we will be able to provide delivery of prescription medications to an abundance of areas not accessible by vehicle,” he said.