Space-enabled drone deliveries aid COVID-19 response in Scotland

Partnership between Skyports, Vodafone and Deloitte will bring vital medical supplies to healthcare sites across the country

In the coming months drones will be used to deliver pathology samples, medicines, PPE, and COVID-19 testing kits to healthcare sites in Scotland

Drone delivery service provider, Skyports, has collaborated with technology communications company, Vodafone, and digital consultants at Deloitte to transport medical supplies and samples for the NHS in Scotland using drones.

The Skyports-led project was selected following a drive to find space-enabled technology and services that can support the NHS response to coronavirus and stop the spread of the disease in a joint funding initiative between the UK Space Agency (UKSA) and the European Space Agency (ESA).

In the coming months, Skyports will start delivering pathology samples, medicine, essential personal protective equipment (PPE) and COVID-19 testing kits between hospitals and to and from medical practices in remote Argyll and Bute on the west coast of Scotland.

This is a brilliant example of how using connected drones can radically change the way things are done, and really change people’s lives

Through Skyports’ technology, pick-ups that currently take up to 48 hours to be transported between healthcare sites will take only 30 minutes and with a much-higher frequency.

NHS staff will be able to make on-demand and scheduled requests to use Skyports drones, via a web customer interface developed by Deloitte.

The drones will be remotely piloted from the Skyports operations centre in Argyll and Bute and will fly automatically along predefined routes.

Communication between the drone and the ground control station will be provided using Vodafone’s 4G network and satellite communications, as well as Earth observation data, to ensure connectivity coverage is provided at all times for safety reasons.

By the end of the project, Skyports aims to integrate its operations into the local NHS supply chain, build its route network, and create a foundation drone delivery service that can be scaled for permanent operations.

In May, Skyports completed a trial drone delivery operation to fly essential medical cargo between two hospitals in the Scottish Highlands to assist the NHS and the Government in the battle against COVID-19.

The company is also working with the Argyll and Bute HSCP as part of its involvement in the CAA Regulatory Sandbox.

The drone package delivery market is projected to be worth £21bn by 2030

Duncan Walker, chief executive at Skyports, said: “Using drone deliveries within supply chains can create significant time and cost savings.

“This project is a natural progression from our recent trials with the NHS in Scotland as we scale and develop our operations, supporting a wider network of hospitals and medical practices as they continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We want more healthcare facilities to benefit from our service over the long term and the experience of this important initiative will put us another step closer to permanent operations that the whole of the NHS could soon benefit from.”

Anne Sheehan, director of Vodafone Business UK, added: “There will be huge benefits from the use of drones connected to the mobile network that can be flown safely and securely beyond line of sight.

“This is a brilliant example of how using connected drones can radically change the way things are done, and really change people’s lives.”

And Scott Campbell, partner and leader in Deloitte Ventures, told BBH: “Drones have the potential to revolutionise the delivery of urgent goods and services for remote locations.

“Hard-to-reach communities in Argyll and Bute will benefit from drones as an alternative to land or sea transportation.

We want more healthcare facilities to benefit from our service over the long term and the experience of this important initiative will put us another step closer to permanent operations that the whole of the NHS could soon benefit from

“This project is a powerful example of the value that drones could bring to communities and wider society in the coming years, as businesses collaborate to further develop the technology.”

Increasing demand

Around the world drones are already being used to deliver products more quickly, cheaply and efficiently than ground transport alternatives, especially in heavily-congested cities and hard-to-reach rural areas.

They can reduce costs, improve the frequency and speed of transport, optimise supply chains, and improve connectivity to underserved areas.

The drone package delivery market is projected to be worth £21billion by 2030 amid increasing demand for faster deliver deliveries, changes to the regulations to enable drone deliveries, and the proliferation of low-cost and light-payload drones.

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