Drone network for medical supplies

AGS Airports, which owns and manages Aberdeen Airport (ABZ), Glasgow Airport (GLA) and Southampton Airport (SOU), has announced that it will lead a consortium to develop and test what will become the UK’s first national delivery network.

Medical supplies to every corner of Scotland

The AGS-led consortium, which brings together 14 organizations including the University of Strathclyde and leading air traffic control (ATC) provider NATS, has been awarded £1,5m from the UK Industrial Strategy Future Flight Challenge Fund to demonstrate how autonomous drone technology can be. At the heart of the project is providing access to essential medical supplies in rural Scotland.

The Caelus (Care and Equity – Health Logistics Scotland) project started in December 2020 and live drone flight trials were conducted. In addition to developing the ground infrastructure needed to recharge aircraft and the systems to control them as they fly, an important aspect of the project will be to design ways to enable drones to safely share airspace with civil aviation. The project will also ensure that critical aspects such as public safety, security and noise levels are taken into account.

A digital blueprint of the drone delivery network will then be created, with the potential to connect hospitals, pathology labs, distribution centers and GP surgeries across Scotland. The project is scheduled to last until Spring 2022.

Carbon emissions will decrease!

Derek Provan, Chief Executive Officer of AGS Airports, said: “This project has the potential to completely revolutionize the way healthcare is provided in Scotland. Drone technology can not only speed up the delivery of critical medical supplies, but also shorten wait times for test results and, more importantly, help ensure equal care between urban and remote rural communities.”

Provan continued: “While our focus is healthcare, the CAELUS project could pave the way for the deployment of drone-assisted logistics in other industries. It has the potential to change the way airspace is used by manned and unmanned vehicles. It also has clear environmental benefits as it will play a key role in reducing the carbon emissions produced by existing, road-based distribution networks in Scotland.”

All companies are mobilized for the project

NHS Ayrshire & Arran and the NHS West of Scotland Innovation Hub, supporting health and social care innovations in West Scotland, will work with the AGS-led consortium on the project.

Karen Bell, Head of Research and Development – Innovation Leader for NHS Ayrshire & Arran said: “We are excited to lead the delivery of this project on behalf of NHS Ayrshire and Arran, West of Scotland Innovation Centre. This will be an opportunity to work with aviation colleagues to explore innovative use of drone technology to address some of the potential challenges facing the daily delivery of NHS services, not just in NHS Ayrshire and Arran, but in the west of Scotland.”

Fiona Hyslop, the Scottish government’s Minister of Economy, said: “This innovative project will help position Scotland at the forefront of drone technologies to deliver essential health services faster to people, especially those living in remote areas. At the same time, it shows once again that when businesses, universities and the public sector work together, they can serve Scotland and outperform the competition and attract funding that is welcome at this challenging time.”

A project that can shape the aviation industry

Professor Sir Jim McDonald, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Strathclyde, said: “Strathclyde is a founding member of the UK Aviation Research Consortium and we are delighted to play a central role in this exciting project by applying our expertise across a broad spectrum. The project aligns with our health technology research cluster and our long history of working with industry and the public sector. We look forward to demonstrating the potential value of drone delivery of medical supplies for the public, the NHS, the economy, social equity and the aviation manufacturing industry in Scotland. The developments will also contribute to the development of Private Air Ambulance and Air Cargo services.” Future Flight Challenge Director Gary Cutts added: “At this very challenging time for the international aviation industry, it is a great testament to the UK’s zeal and ambition that we have had such a strong response to the UK’s first funded Future Flight competition. The breadth, quality and creativity of the offerings have been outstanding and the economic and social benefits delivered are crucial. The projects we are launching now will strongly position the UK to drive the third revolution in aviation.”