$3.6M Boost for Drone Project to Aid Rural Australia Health

A hydrogen-fuelled, emissions free medical drone is being developed by the University of Sydney in partnership with ASAC Consultancy.

The medical drone is being designed to service rural and remote Australia, like the Kimberley. Image: Anna Klis, CEO and Founder of ASAC Consultancy, the organisation which is funding the research and development of the drone.

A specialised medical drone which increases accessibility to essential health services such as pathology, treatments, and telehealth services in rural and remote regions of Australia is under development at the University of Sydney.

The project is a strategic partnership between the University and ASAC Consultancy, which has funded research and development for a hydrogen fuelled vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV).

The Wildu Aero Project will be led by Associate Professor Dries Verstraete from the University of Sydney. It aims to help improve health outcomes for rural and remote communities including many First Nations communities.

The medical drone is being designed to enable early detection, prevention, and treatment of health conditions common in rural and remote regions of Australia, such as sepsis, and to actively contribute to addressing the health inequities for some of Australia's most vulnerable and isolated communities.

The partnership with ASAC Consultancy will allow Associate Professor Verstraete and his team to design, build and test-fly prototypes. In addition to being sustainable, hydrogen fuelled, and emissions-free, the drones will be required to fly significant distances.

The Wildu Aero Project will complement local primary health networks, telehealth services, pathology services and pharmaceutical delivery. It will enable the use of other innovative technologies and support the function of emergency and disaster management operations, such as during infection outbreaks or when communities are cut off by floods.

To reach the distance needed to make a difference for all Australians, Associate Professor Verstraete will integrate and optimise a hydrogen-fuelled fuel cell system which will be piloted in several trials. His team will further develop its triple hybrid fuel-cell-based system to extend the lifetime of the fuel cell under Australia's challenging operating conditions.

"Huge areas of Australia do not have easy access to medical care. Current technology doesn't allow drones to cover the required distances while being sustainable, hydrogen fuelled and emissions free," said Associate Professor Verstraete, who is a member of the University's Net Zero Initiative and School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering. "Our mission is to create a hydrogen-fuelled carbon-neutral VTOL UAV that can carry medical cargo, while providing unparalleled range."

Founding Director of ASAC Consultancy, Anna Klis, started the Wildu Aero Project after witnessing first-hand the health inequities for those living in rural and remote regions.

"The Wildu Aero Project is our commitment to bridging the gap and ensuring every Australian has access to the healthcare they deserve," she said.

"Through collaboration with First Nations communities and the University of Sydney, we are not just building a health care service model, we are building capacity of individuals, communities and organisations to make decisions that support their well-being and those of the community. Together, we're shaping a future where healthcare is truly inclusive and accessible to all."

Healthcare in rural and remote Australia

People living in regional and rural areas face unique challenges due to their geographical location and often have poorer health outcomes than people living in metropolitan areas, with higher rates of hospitalisations, deaths, injury, and poorer access to primary health services. Rural and remote areas have double the number of preventable hospitalisations and two-and-a-half times more potentially avoidable deaths compared to metropolitan areas.

The health gap for First Nations Australians

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the National Indigenous Australians Agency, First Nations Australians make up 32 percent of the population of rural and remote areas and have lower life expectancies, a high burden of disease, poorer self-reported health and a higher likelihood of being hospitalised than non-Indigenous Australians.

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