Windracers UAV

Drones deliver urgent medical supplies from UK mainland to the Isle of Wight

Image credit: Windracers

A drone service for delivering urgent medical supplies is being trialled on the Isle of Wight in response to the Covid-19 outbreak.

The trial, which is funded by the Department for Transport and led by Solent Transport, is the first of its kind and aims to benefit patients by speeding up the delivery of medical supplies.

The drone has been designed and built by the University of Southampton to transport medical supplies to St Mary's Hospital in Newport from the mainland via Solent Airport.

The fixed-wing drone has a range of 1000 km and can carry a payload of up to 100 kilos in a hold around the size of an estate car boot.

It is able to make the trip across the Solent - the stretch of water separating the Isle of Wight from the mainland - in roughly 10 minutes – much faster than a ferry trip, but significantly cheaper than other forms of flight like helicopters.

Solent Transport is also looking to develop an air traffic management system to oversee the safe movement of both manned and unmanned aircraft in shared airspace.

Various types of unmanned aircraft will be trialled to see how they could improve the movement of medical supplies between the three hospitals in Hampshire – Southampton General Hospital, Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth and St Mary’s Hospital on the Isle of Wight. 

It is hoped the project will increase efficiency, reduce costs and transportation time of medical supplies between NHS locations.

University of Southampton professor Tom Cherrett said: “The concept of using drones to deliver medical supplies has been proven in countries such as Rwanda where they are helping to save lives by reaching isolated communities quickly and cheaply. 

“The research we are embarking on over the next four years will investigate how such unmanned systems could be used in shared airspace and integrated within existing logistics operations in the UK.”

He added that the trials were originally not going to start until next year, but they have been brought forward due to the Covid-19 crisis.

Maggie Oldham, chief executive at the Isle of Wight NHS Trust, said “Providing NHS services on an island comes with a number of challenges, so it is fantastic to see the progress being made to support health care on the Isle of Wight through the use of new and innovative technology.

“This work has the potential to significantly improve services for our local community by reducing waiting times for test results and speeding up the transfer of important, possibly life-saving medication.”

In April a study found that drone deliveries are up to ten times less energy efficient than those carried out by electric vans.

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