CEDAR POINT _ An important lifeline now hovers in the sky above Georgian Bay between Christian Island and Cedar Point.
With all eyes shifting upwards here Friday, a buzzing Sparrow drone left its mainland perch to pass over the relatively calm Georgian Bay waters before landing on its island base.
The multi-partner project is expected to greatly help isolated communities like Beausoleil First Nation during not only the current COVID-19 pandemic, but also when the weather turns colder and choppy waters and eventually ice make the ferry trip all the more difficult.
“It has a 30-kilometre, one-way range and can take 10 pounds of payload,” Drone Delivery Canada (DDC) president and CEO Michael Zahra said, noting this marks the first time a project like this has been launched in Canada.
The payload allows the electric drone to carry COVID-related medical and hygiene supplies, mail, important documents and other items in a relatively inexpensive way and with minimal person-to-person contact.
As well, since Beausoleil First Nation and its 750 residents don’t have a COVID-19 assessment centre, a nurse on the island will be able to conduct tests and send the swabs via the air for testing.
Beausoleil First Nation Chief Guy Monague couldn’t be happier with the new arrangement.
“We really appreciate the opportunity you’ve brought to our community,” Monague said, adding no one knows what the next few months or 2021 will look like, given the fact Canada seemed to be flattening the COVID-19 curve, but is now facing a daunting influx.
“It’s an important piece in the event our ferry service goes down. Getting supplies to the island has always been a challenge.”
Besides Zahra’s company, the initiative overseen by GlobalMedic cost about $300,000 to get off the ground. It also involves backing from Air Canada, the Pontiac Group and the OEC Group (Canada), which is a major financial contributor and global logistics provider servicing clients in all major industries including aerospace, healthcare, global retail, automotive and manufacturing.
“This is taking something we really believe in and helping the community,” said Landon Bibeau, chief marketing officer of the OEC Group.
“DDC and OEC have been looking for an opportunity to partner. When the chance popped up to help the Beausoleil First Nation community, it was an easy decision to make.”
Added Zahra: “This is a really good Canadian story. The First Nations community didn’t have to pay anything.”
GlobalMedic executive director Rahul Singh was enthused by what this could mean for disaster relief/humanitarian aid agencies like his that are involved around the world.
“This is tremendous for the whole country and there are global implications too,” said Singh, whose charitable agency is operated by the David McAntony Gibson Foundation. “We’re excited to help the community here, take the lessons learned and use this (elsewhere). We’ve done 223 missions in 73 countries and aided 3.6 million beneficiaries.”
A similar drone operation will launch next week involving the Chippewas of Georgina Island with federal government funding, according to Zahra.
“It’s important to use for a few reasons,” said Zahra, who noted that some Indigineous communities are relatively isolated and often have poor health infrastructure coupled with heightened rates of diabetes, tuberculosis and obesity.
“We want to keep the supply chain open and drones are perfect for that," he said. "The drone runs automatically. We have an operations control centre in Vaughn to monitor it from there. It could be flying 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year or on-demand.”