Drones could be used to deliver medicines to isolated Northland communities next year.
Drones could be delivering medicine to remote, rural Northland communities by March next year.
Medical Drones Aotearoa plans to trial delivering medical supplies to Mitimiti, north of Hokianga Harbour, in November and aims to start its first regular service by March, pending Civil Aviation Authority approval.
Company founder Robyn Kamira said about 14 per cent of patients in low socioeconomic and rural areas did not pick up their medicines and more rationed their medicines to make them last longer.
"The medical and crisis-support drone trials will lead to a high-quality, high-value service that will make a real difference to people's lives. We're focused on supporting communities that may otherwise be overlooked when it comes to deploying leading-edge technologies for services."
Those living in Mitimiti faced a relatively bumpy three-hour return trip to the closest pharmacy, making it difficult for residents to access even basic medical supplies, Ms Kamira said.
The trial would test drones, leaving from a few different launch sites, to deliver unrestricted medicine, to Mitimiti marae where it could be picked up or delivered by trusted community members. The company had acquired the airspace to fly to Mitimiti as a drone testing space.
Between March and September next year she hoped to extend the service to other rural communities near Mitimiti. She hoped the model could be used in other parts of the country.
The company was developing systems and protocols to ensure the medicines could not be stolen and to authenticate the safety of senders and receivers. The trial would only deliver unrestricted medicine that could be bought from pharmacies over the counter until the security systems could be proven safe.
The trial would include tests that explored the safe delivery of medicines and flights that were beyond line of sight and autonomous - with the ability for a pilot to take control of the craft remotely, and she believed the trial could have international impacts.
The company was also looking to provide crisis support to emergency services by delivering aid to difficult-to-access areas and helping with disaster recovery and search and rescue. The drones could also send information to off-site medical teams.
New Zealand Medical Association chairwoman and rural GP Dr Kate Baddock said she believed the use of drones was "full of potential".
"The tyranny of distance is always an issue for people living remotely," she said. "I think the role of drones in delivering is a great step forward."
Dr Baddock acknowledged there would be issues around security but they were not insurmountable.