Successful medical drone delivery trial in Scotland expanded

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A trial of a drone delivery service transporting medical supplies in a remote region of Scotland has been expanded for three months and will carry Covid-19 test samples following a successful proof-of-concept phase.

The service, which is being operated by drone logistics firm Skyports with Swoop drones and Thales’ drone operations management platform Soarizon was successfully tested for two weeks last year. The service, which aims to help Covid-19 related logistics is also being expanded in terms of the number of landing sites and routes for the three-month test.

The delivery drones are carrying up to 3kg of critical medical supplies up to 40 miles for the Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP). Cargo to be carried will include Covid-19 and other test samples, medicine, essential personal protective equipment (PPE) and Covid-19 testing kits. Skyports is the first operator to receive permission by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to carry diagnostic specimens by drone.

The drone delivery service will initially operate 10 drones between Lorn & Islands Hospital in Oban, Mid-Argyll Community Hospital in Lochgilphead, Easdale Medical Practice in Clachan Seil and the Mull & Iona Community Hospital in Craignure. It has been found that the drones can significantly increase the speed of transport, reduce journey times from up to 36 hours for a road and ferry journey to 15 mins, while also increasing the frequency of pick- ups.

Both a scheduled service and an on-demand service will be run, with orders able to be placed by NHS staff through an online system developed by digital consultants Deloitte.

The vehicles will be controlled from a mobile operations centre at a hospital in Oban and fly automatically along predefined routes. Communication between the drone and the ground control station will be provided by a 4G network and satellite communications.

The project has been funded by a joint initiative between the UK Space Agency (UKSA) and the European Space Agency (ESA) to use space-enabled technology and services that can support the NHS.

Duncan Walker, CEO at Skyports, said, “This is a technological solution with a robust-user case and a stepping stone to rolling it out further across Scotland and beyond.

Stephen Whiston, head of strategic planning for Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership, said, “This three-month project will provide critical evidence on the real benefits this technology can bring to the NHS not only in Argyll and Bute but across Scotland.”

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Ben has worked as a journalist and editor, covering technology, engineering and industry for the last 20 years. Initially writing about subjects from nuclear submarines to autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies, he was editor of a leading UK-based engineering magazine before eventually becoming editor of Aerospace Testing in 2017.

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