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Episode fourteen transcript

The Virtual Staffroom Podcast

Episode 14: Drones doing good

Joachim Cohen:

Welcome to The Virtual Staffroom, a podcast made for teachers by teachers, and all with a dash of educational technology thrown in. My name is Joachim Cohen, and today I'm joined by another member of the Technology 4 Learning team, Linda Lazenby. Welcome, Linda.

 

Linda Lazenby:

Hi, Joe. Welcome to Term Two.

 

Joachim Cohen:

So, what do we have in store for you today? It's a focus on tech for good, and we are heading to the skies. Let's get straight into it.

 

Joachim Cohen:

Now, many of you will have heard of drones, seen them in parks or beaches or read a news story about them delivering parcels or coffee. But what about if we use them for good? How about enabling the efficient and effective delivery of time-saving vaccines, medications and other essential services to rural and remote areas that are otherwise really hard to access? Today we have someone rather inspirational swooping in, someone who leads a company that won the New York Times Good Tech Award in 2018. A company that pioneered the world's first drone-delivered vaccine. Someone who is also a former RAAF pilot and that is Eric Peck, CEO of Swoop, an exciting new company that is all about using drones for good. Welcome, Eric.

 

Eric Peck:

Thanks very much for having me on today.

 

Joachim Cohen:

Oh Eric, it is our pleasure, and I know we've almost given the game away in the introduction, but did you want to tell us a little bit more about Swoop before we get underway?

 

Eric Peck:

Yeah, definitely. So, Swoop Aero was founded in 2017 by myself and my co-founder Josh Tepper to transform the way the world moves essential supplies by making access to the air seamless. And what we do is we integrate drone logistics into the first and last mile of the health supply chain to increase its strength and agility, and where we can't provide that service ourselves, we partner with organizations very selectively around the world to further the reach of their impact with our technology platform. We're based out of Melbourne. We've got about 40 staff and we deliver medical logistics networks all over the world.

 

Linda Lazenby:

Fantastic. Can you provide us with some examples of the projects that Swoop have completed and the impact it's having on people's lives?

 

Eric Peck:

Yeah, definitely. So, in 2018, we won the world's first tender for medical drone logistics which was run by UNICEF and the government of Vanuatu to provide a vaccine distribution service across their island groups. And so we kicked it off in 2018 and that's where we became the first company in the world to deliver a vaccine by drone, which was really exciting. In 2019, we won another tender to commence operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and we're still running our operations there today after expanding significantly over the last six months, which provides medical logistics to an area 10 times the size of the Australian Capital Territory for about a million people in one of the hardest to reach places deep in the middle of the Central Africa. Later in 2019, we also commenced operations in Northern Malawi and expanded our service to Southern Malawi now which has been running for just on 18 months, providing a couple of million people in the South of Malawi, alongside USAID, UK Aid, and other aid organizations, to distribute medical supplies outbound and pick up pathology samples and bring them back in.

 

Joachim Cohen:

Gee whiz, Eric, I can tell you I am blown away by what you do every day and the awesome good that you are achieving and I'm really interested to know what sparked your journey? Where did the inspiration come from?

 

Eric Peck:

Yeah, definitely. As you said, I started my career as an air force pilot. I completed an MBA and moved into management consulting working at a small firm called Pollen in Sydney that's grown massively and then at Deloitte. And while I was working at Deloitte I just serendipitously listened to my co-founder Josh Tepper. So, he's a robotics engineer. So, if you can imagine big arms on the Tesla factory putting cars together, or the world's biggest 3D printer printing the Thames Tideway Tunnel panels, that's what he was doing. And we got posed this question with his background in engineering and mine as an air force pilot around could a drone be used to move chemotherapy medications in regional New South Wales?

 

Eric Peck:

We went, "Well, the answer is yes. You can use a drone to transport a kilogram of medical supplies a hundred kilometers once." But we stepped back and we thought, "What did a system look like to do that sustainably, reliably and in a scalable way every day of the week?" And so we set aside building that system. We won that first tender. We've got some investment funding from some of the top firms in Australia and it's just taken off ever since.

 

Linda Lazenby:

So, some of those complex parts to delivering medications sounds quite tricky, temperatures and the time that things can be kept, and I suppose the access point only for medical professionals. Can you talk to us about some of the technology involved to make sure that all happens?

 

Eric Peck:

Yeah, definitely. So, we've got the aircraft itself, which we built and we developed here in Melbourne. But on the medical side, from day one we knew we were going to be transporting vaccines outbound and then blood samples inbound, and they've got some pretty unique characteristics. Most vaccines need to be kept between two and eight degrees celsius, so a really tight temperature range. And in fact, the Ebola vaccine that we transport in the Congo has to be kept at minus 70. So, that's the same as the current vaccine that is being put out for COVID-19. And so basically it had to be able to carry in the aircraft a mini Esky basically, be able to take off and land vertically and to fly from a hospital or a small healthcare center and fly back and keep the medical supplies at temperature the whole time.

 

Eric Peck:

And so all the flight control systems on the aircraft are built and developed here in Melbourne. We use artificial intelligence to basically monitor how healthy the aircraft is while it's flying and do the same job a pilot would do to make sure that everything's functioning correctly. And if something's not looking great, knowing when to turn around or when to turn around and land into another location so that we're not in the air in an unsafe way. And then the last bit of the puzzle is linking that all back up in the Cloud with lots and lots of data to look at how we can optimize the supply chain and how we can do things like predictive maintenance and analytics on the aircraft so that we can keep that network running as efficiently as possible.

 

Joachim Cohen:

Wow. This just sounds like you're running a... You are, you're running a mini airline there with all the different parts and components.

 

Eric Peck:

I think we were doing more flights per day than Qantas were during most of 2020.

 

Linda Lazenby:

It helps that Joe's passion Eric is aviation. So, he's actually having his best day right now.

 

Joachim Cohen:

Absolutely. That is for sure. Just hearing it. It sounds, yeah, you've got your own little mini airport, off you go and all these other exciting data and statistics that sit behind that that I know some of our teachers out there and students that they'd be connecting with would just be going, "Wow, I'd really want to get my teeth into lots of components like that". And we can start to see how you got so many different people involved. It's amazing.

 

Eric Peck:

Yeah, definitely. I think that the ability to pull it all together and work in that STEM space in Australia is really fantastic.

 

Joachim Cohen:

Yeah. And we want to keep that going a little bit, because I think we hear that you actually 3D print a lot of your drones and design them as well. Can you tell us about the process that you went through and all the iterations and maybe the iterations you're continuing to make as time's evolved?

 

Eric Peck:

Yeah, definitely. That's right. The aircraft themselves are 3D printed over a carbon fiber skeleton. So, imagine we build the skeleton out of nice strong, carbon fiber, 3D print all the panels that go in over the top and then fill it full of cutting edge electronics to make it fly. We know of right now we have 18 3D printers running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So, we have people come in on shifts and every 24 hours they change the prints over and we keep on going. And we identified really early on that one thing to build a successful technology product is to get a product, they call it a min-viable product or for us, it was a minimum safe products so it was safe to fly from an aviation perspective and then get that into the market, alongside people who were really using it.

 

Eric Peck:

So, Vanuatu, Malawi, DRC and learn about how it needs to be different when it's actually in use and 3D printing enabled us to do that because we could very rapidly iterate on little bits of the design to make it really, really usable, really, really reliable, and really, really user friendly. And so we're currently on our fifth generation aircraft is ready to be released in the next few months. But leading up to that, we're currently using a combination of our third and our fourth overseas. They've slowly incorporated in all kinds of new designs, from different shapes on the pods, through a different tail structure, through to a nice little wing fairings that we've learnt are going to improve the usability of the design all the way through.

 

Linda Lazenby:

That's so incredible. And the opportunity to share that with students and teachers how you've iterated that process would be fantastic. I'm curious to know more about your operations in Australia. What's the plan and how are you going to make an impact here?

 

Eric Peck:

So, we've actually been conducting our research and development flight operations in Australia for a couple of years now and we're really excited to have been able to announce that we're shortly going to commence commercial operations in Australia. The initial project is alongside, or the initial pilot network I should say is alongside TerryWhite Chemmart and Symbion Pharmaceutical and we're going to be delivering medical supplies. So prescription pharmaceuticals from TerryWhite Chemmart in Goondiwindi to two locations within 130 kilometers or to the farms within 130 kilometers of the chemist, basically saving people in some cases, a several hour drive to get to the chemist and pick up their prescription pharmaceutical. Rather they can fill out an online form and get that delivered to their house. Kind of monitor the flight through and app, know when it's arriving and have it dropped off for them close to home.

 

Eric Peck:

And that initial pilot network, we're working really close with the aviation regulator, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and a number of different medical organizations just to prove that this can work in Australia because we know that it works overseas. It is a working functioning product and we're going to partner with a few people here in Australia to start that impact by working in regional areas and then look at how integrating air transport by drone into the health supply chain progressively closer and closer to our cities, can actually help everyone have a better quality of health care delivered through a seamless supply chain.

 

Joachim Cohen:

It's so awesome and I don't know why, but I'm getting thoughts going back as to when in the past, a lot of times pharmacies used to deliver by bike a lot of their supplies and it's like we're going back to the future, but forward to the future all at the same time. It's very, very cool the work you're doing, Eric that's for sure.

 

Joachim Cohen:

Now, you have become an entrepreneur. A tech guru-

 

Eric Peck:

Thank you. I definitely hope it's back to the future.

 

Joachim Cohen:

Absolutely, absolutely. And I can tell you, I think our teachers, our students are going to be so, so excited to hear what you've done and the amazing story that you've had hearing that you were an aviator, you've become a designer, you've become an entrepreneur, a tech guru, and you've really chased those dreams that have been put out there for you. What advice do you have for students with big ideas?

 

Eric Peck:

Definitely. I think for people growing up here in Australia, really the world is your oyster. You have the opportunity to do anything and achieve anything if you really want to. And so my advice to students would be to be fearless and bold with the ideas they're looking at pursuing, to work hard at them. None of this is easy, but with hard work and focusing on what you're doing, you can achieve anything you want. And finally, just to dream big I think would be the final one. So the bigger you can dream, if you're willing to work hard and be bold with what you're doing, you'll be able to achieve it.

 

Linda Lazenby:

And so the world of drones seems to be getting bigger every day. How else aside from what you're doing, can you see drones being used for good?

 

Eric Peck:

While the use cases for drones are increasing every day as we see them being more seamlessly integrated into the air in around us and while our operations today have been really focused on delivering that impact in the health supply chain, we can see a lot of use cases in adjacent industries that are going to have that really good societal impact, areas that we're going to be looking to operate in into the future. And so some examples of things like that are disaster response and search and rescue, disaster preparedness. So, things like being able to capture footage of areas that might flood, which is relevant to New South Wales at the moment, that's something we're actively doing in Malawi at the moment, and then basically expanding out beyond healthcare in the movement space.

 

Eric Peck:

And what else can we be moving that's going to create positive social impact for people? Is it food or water purification tablets alongside the World Health Organization? What are these other use cases where we can move products from A to B or get something to a three-dimensional point in space at an exact time that's going to generate social impact on the ground? So, I think our next steps are going to be in that disaster response, search and rescue, and then also disaster preparedness as the three areas that we'll be moving into next.

 

Joachim Cohen:

Oh, I think you're certainly blowing our minds and warming our hearts all at the same time with what you've got planned, Eric, and you sound very humble, but what you're doing certainly is going to have huge impact. And I think a lot of our students listening to this may now be keen to explore a career in aviation, knowing what good it can do, either small or large and I was wondering, what skills do you think they need and how can they start to get prepared today?

 

Eric Peck:

Yeah definitely. The first thing I'd like to say to everyone is definitely study the STEM subjects, particularly around technology. Everything in the future is going to be very technology centric. Even in aviation as we have increasing levels of autonomy, there's going to be a lot of high tech opportunities out there. So, keep up to your technology subjects, English, maths, physics, chemistry, they're going to be essential for you. And then basically just the... I've already touched on it, but the real skills are that grit to get ahead, be bold and chase your dreams and then I also just that inquisitive mind. Problem solving, Innovative problem solving and all those kinds of things that lead towards how can we use technology to make the world a better place? And I think they're the core skills in aviation large or small. They're going to be really, really useful as we look forward to the next 20 or 50 years.

 

Joachim Cohen:

Absolutely. I think we were nodding here in concurrence with those thoughts, Eric, I can tell you, and absolutely we want to be inspiring our students too.

 

Linda Lazenby:

Great advice.

 

Joachim Cohen:

Yeah. Be curious, all those other kinds of things absolutely. Now the next question we haven't prepared you for Eric and it's one we ask to every one of our guests and you might've listened into a very famous podcast that gets released over in the UK called Desert Island Discs, where they're asked, "What kind of record you would take with you to a desert island if you were stranded there?". But of course we're a technology podcast so instead, we've got rocket ship robots. So, what piece of technology would you take with you if you are stuck on a rocket going into outer space, what would it be?

 

Eric Peck:

Stuck on a rocket going out of space is quite a challenging question to ask. I mean, with a piece of technology, you'd almost have to say something like a tablet or a smartphone that's loaded with books to read. And I'm going to say that because going into outer space journeys, it's seven months to get to Mars. You're probably going to run out of Netflix movies in seven months. And maybe if it's a tablet, you can use it to send some emails back home as well and communicate with your loved ones. And also have a lot of really interesting material to read. So, I'd have to say I'm going to go with a tablet, a tablet computer that you can use to communicate back home and loaded with a thousand books. Is that okay?

 

Linda Lazenby:

Awesome. No wrong answers.

 

Joachim Cohen:

Absolutely. Absolutely. And I like that one about the books being preloaded, especially if when someone's so embedded in the technology industry that idea of being able to slowly gain information and look back on the past as well through books is fantastic. So, Eric, thank you so much. We are just so honored I can tell you to have had you and the inspiration that you provided to all of our listeners. And I think the amazing message of social good that you've got behind Swoop and the work that you do. So, thank you so much for speaking with us.

 

Eric Peck:

Yeah. Thank you very much for having me on. It's been a pleasure.

 

Joachim Cohen:

So Linda, what an amazing tech for good story. What did you take away?

 

Linda Lazenby:

I think exactly that Joe, the idea that we can share with our students and teachers and our school communities the skills that our students have around technology and how that can be used for good. I know both you and I talked about it afterwards and there is so much amazingness that we can share with our students around that story, that Swoop are doing. So, so much, actually maybe a little bit too much. You?

 

Joachim Cohen:

Yeah. I really liked that message you've thought about how we can use our talents, our skills and technology for good that's for sure. And I also think that I was listening to Eric and the many careers that he's taken. So, he started off as a RAAF pilot and then he's had so many different pathways after that, working for Deloitte and now being the CEO of Swoop. And I think that that's a great message for our students and for our teachers, you've only got one life but you can have many, many different types of careers. So, pretty exciting. And before we go on, though Linda, what would you use a drone for good for? I want to know.

 

Linda Lazenby:

Well, I suppose in light of that conversation, it could really help with the COVID vaccination because he was talking about vaccination programs in Third World countries. We're not a Third World, but it would be great to help our rural and remote brothers and sisters I suppose, get access to that vaccination a bit quicker. What about you? What's your next for drones?

 

Joachim Cohen:

Oh look, my mind has just blown away here. I was starting to think about endangered animals. So, you could actually take them by drone back to their habitat, drop them in, but then you can keep an eye on them. Like if there's any poachers around, you can have like the drone that's watching around and saying, "Don't you go near that animal". That kind of thing, protection, repatriation, but then I love cars so it's got to be about NRMA, are you listening? So, could you have like the drone that comes out to recharge the electric car that's run out of juice in the middle of the road? That kind of thing.

 

Linda Lazenby:

Or the drone that recognizes a poor driver and gives them some kind of ping to drive a bit better.

 

Joachim Cohen:

I really like that one. That sounds good. Follow me. It's like a follow me thing when you get stuck and caught. Because sometimes it's just really nervous drivers getting onto the highway they don't know what to do, they get stuck and they're frozen.

 

Linda Lazenby:

There's a lot we could do with those drones. And Eric just... Tip of the iceberg.

 

Joachim Cohen:

Oh, so exciting. I can't wait to see some ideas that our students have in the future.

 

Joachim Cohen:

Now, if you are like us, you might be thinking about how to inspire your students to use tech for good. So Linda, do we have some suggestions to get people started?

 

Linda Lazenby:

Well, I had a really easy connection to Eric's story. Our STEMaSESH, our live student incursions that we run we've started recording them, we have one on the army drone racing team, a great resource with learning activities to match to it for any of your students that are interested in all things drones. And on our website we also have some information around using drones in schools and where that sits in terms of safety as well.

 

Joachim Cohen:

Oh, absolutely. You've got to make sure if you do want to use drones in your classroom, make sure you read that advice first. The link is in the show notes. That is for sure.

 

Linda Lazenby:

What have you found?

 

Joachim Cohen:

Well great question Linda. I mean, I'm excited. I just heard that the Game Changer Challenge for 2021 is now open. So, schools might want to sign up. I think it's open until... I'm going to date this a little tiny bit here until the end of April I believe so that submissions are open. So, you should still have a little bit of time to get your entry in and it's all about how can you use technology to solve real world problems? I don't know what the challenge is going to be this year, but I reckon someone somewhere is going to use a drone to solve that problem or other tech for good. So, that's my definite go-to.

 

Linda Lazenby:

I feel like you might have a hint on the challenge because maybe you might be involved in creating the challenge.

 

Joachim Cohen:

Oh, I might just have a little bit of an idea on what they're planning that's for sure. And I'm excited to see the organizing team are just amazing Linda so, I can't wait to see what comes out and students and teachers get connected.

 

Linda Lazenby:

Excellent.

 

Joachim Cohen:

So whilst we often have the last word in our podcast, from now on, we want to give you a voice. In the last few episodes we have heard from Rebecca and from Bahia with some jamboard jams. And so to close this out today is a little jam of techno wizardry wisdom from Anthony. One of our amazing colleagues at the New South Wales Department of Education.

 

Anthony:

Hi Joe, Linda and Yvette, Anthony here. My tip is for teachers looking to start moving their schools across from Google Drive into Microsoft Teams. If you've got staff with lots of files stored in Google Drive, consider making a URL tab in your team that links directly to that Google Drive. That way teachers can access all their files directly through Teams. There's no need to copy anything across. Your teachers will get all the benefits of Teams without losing any of their existing files. Thanks.

 

Joachim Cohen:

Linda, how warm is your heart feeling?

 

Linda Lazenby:

Very. A technology for good story is a pretty great way to start the term.

 

Joachim Cohen:

Ah, an amazing guest, the best tip of techno wizardry wisdom, what a jam packed episode that's for sure. And can you believe already in Term Two? Any ideas of what we have planned for the rest of the year in Virtual Staffroom?

 

Linda Lazenby:

We're working on it.

 

Joachim Cohen:

You will just have to listen, wait and see. This podcast has been produced by the masterful Jacob Druce with the assistance and supreme coordination of the entire Technology 4 Learning team. Before we go, please make sure you send us through your comments, your word of techno wizardry wisdom and your thoughts for new guests and segments. And if you like the podcast, give us a rating so more and more educators find us and be inspired to get a little techie in the classroom. Stay curious, stay compassionate, get innovating everyone and thanks for joining us.

 

Yvette Poshoglian:

Just a little note. Please be aware that all views expressed by the podcast presenters, that's us, are our personal opinions and not representative of the New South Wales Department of Education. Discussions aren't endorsements of third party products, services or events. And please note that as much as we sound like it, we are not experts in legalese, tech speak or anything in between. We're just passionate people keen to boost technology for learning in the classroom and to help build the skills in your students and for you to solve the problems of tomorrow. Do your due diligence, read further and if we've got something wrong, let us know. We too are always learning and always improving.