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How Ryerson students are designing drones to fly COVID-19 supplies to remote communities

The Ryerson Unmanned Aerial Vehicle team is shifting focus to bring COVID-19 relief to areas that need it most
By: Jessica Leach
June 02, 2020
A man works on a drone

Robel Efrem, lead engineer on the Ryerson Unmanned Aerial Vehicles team, is part of a group designing drones that can fly COVID-19 supplies and testing kits to remote communities.

Electrical engineering student Alex Coutu has been part of the Ryerson Unmanned Aerial Vehicles team (external link)  (RUAV) for three years and is now team captain. When COVID-19 ground everything to a halt, Coutu and the team knew they had an opportunity to take initiative and use their resources to help with relief efforts.   

The team is developing a long-range drone that has the capability to travel up to 200 kilometres and carry a load of 15 pounds. The goal is to use the drone to provide vital COVID-19 supplies, test kits and medical necessities to remote communities who are currently underserved.

“We have the knowledge and skillset to build these different vehicles at an industry standard,” said Coutu. “Given our position, and what we’re able to do, it’s really important for us to have as much of a social impact as we possibly can. It’s fulfilling for us as a team to serve communities that are in need.”

The drone designed by the RUAV team was refined over the past year, while Coutu worked out of the Design Fabrication Zone. While the design is in the early stages of testing, the team hopes to get approval from Transport Canada to fly the drone. It will be considered an aircraft with a pilot in control, who acts remotely, flying necessities to communities in Northern Canada, for example, from as far away as Toronto. Coutu and the RUAV team have been safely testing the capabilities of their aircraft design during COVID-19 by making short test flights.   

“We really believe that we can help those who lack access to necessary goods in the best possible manner,” said Coutu, who is graduating this spring with a degree in electrical engineering and will continue working in the Design Fabrication Zone this fall.

The RUAV team is made up of students across multiple faculties. Team members are currently in business and engineering streams like marketing, commerce, mechatronics, aerospace, and electrical.

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