Article by Sam Riches, Growth Op
The Pontiac Group is used to adapting quickly.
The First Nations owned and operated socio-economic development firm, which fosters on-reserve business opportunities, navigated the first community benefits agreement signed between a cannabis company and a First Nations community in Canada in 2015, three years ahead of federal legalization.
More recently, they’ve been pushing Health Canada to evolve the regulations around cannabis delivery while advocating for the use of drones to make deliveries to remote locations. But now, as the COVID-19 pandemic grips the world, they’ve altered their course — at least temporarily.
With a critical need to get supplies in and out of far-flung communities with as little human contact as possible, the Pontiac Group has begun using their drones to deliver medical supplies and other goods.
“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,” says Jacob Taylor, managing partner of Pontiac Group. “We are providing solutions to this.”
Pontiac Group currently has ten drones in its fleet and each drone can carry around 10 pounds and travel up to 50-kilometres. Taylor says they can also produce custom drones with increased weight-bearing capabilities that travel up to three times as far.
“When we first started, we were only able to do line-of-sight, now we’re getting beyond it,” Taylor says. They’ve also increased their pilot capacity. “We really hope to be pushing the envelope with this. We want to make as much noise as possible.”
The organization is currently working with the Denesoline Corporation, the business development arm of the Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation in the Northwest Territories. The community there is taking a proactive approach to support during the COVID-19 pandemic by providing each household with a food hamper and $250 before federal relief becomes available.
The drones will be departing from an airport near the fly-in community on the shores of Great Slave Lake, Taylor says, explaining that they’ve created a trigger drop payload system: “Our drones never have to land or come into contact with a human being while delivering goods.”
Taylor says that First Nations communities across Canada have been reaching out, and he encourages any reserve in North America that might be interested to contact him.