April 2, 2020

Drones Playing Role in Pandemic


A First Nation-owned and operated company is reportedly using drones in Northern Ontario to deliver essential supplies and food to isolated communities during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The Pontiac Group was formed by members of the of the Wahgoshig First Nation as a ‘socio-economic development’ company with a mandate to encourage and promote on-reserve business opportunities. Before the legalization of cannabis in 2018, the Ohsweken, Ontario-based company helped bring Indigenous and non-Indigenous investors together to partner with a cannabis production company. They then turned their efforts towards Health Canada, requesting that rules around the delivery of medicinal cannabis be amended to permit delivery to remote locations using drones.

The Pontiac Group has a fleet of 10 drones, each of which can transport up to 4.5 kilograms a distance of 50 kilometres.

“Communities who are self-quarantined from the world want unmanned air vehicles to bring food and essential supplies to the reserve boundary instead of manned aircraft,” Pontiac Group managing partner Jacob Taylor said. “We are providing solutions to this.”

They are also working with the Northwest Territories’ Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation, a fly-in community located on the shores of Great Slave Lake, to deliver food hampers. The drones will depart from a nearby airport.

In the meantime, the effort to get approval for the delivery of cannabis, yet to be authorized by Health Canada, has been put on hold.

Elsewhere, a major player in the Canadian drone industry, Drone Delivery Canada (DDC) of Vaughan, Ontario, has stated that, given two weeks, they could make available drones that could transport blood tests and blood samples, and medical supplies to assist with the pandemic response.

“As an example, we have minimal infrastructure at the point of origin,” said DDC president and CEO Michael Zahra of a hypothetical situation. “We have no infrastructure at the point of destination. We have a drone which, unmanned, would take off, would go to the point of origin…goes to a low altitude, drops the cargo, and it comes back.” Zahra added, “So, that kind of scenario we can implement in a few weeks.”

DDC’s fleet of drones include their Condor model, capable of carrying 180 kilograms up to 200 kilometres (pictured above).

Photo credit : DDC