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skyports delivery drone

NHS delivery drones receive funding boost for speedy Covid-19 test kit transfer

Image credit: skyports

A plan to transport vital medical equipment and samples via drone in the Scottish islands of Argyll and Bute has received funding from the UK Space Agency and European Space Agency (ESA) in the hope it will become a permanent project.

Using technology developed by Skyports, 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.

By the end of the project, Skyports hopes the service will be fully integrated into the operations of the local NHS supply chain for permanent operation.

An initial £2.6m was made available by the UK Space Agency and ESA to find and support space-enabled technologies and services that can support the NHS response to coronavirus.

Skyports has received around £1.1m of that funding to carry out the project, which should drastically cut the amount of time taken for Covid-19 test kits to be delivered among other supplies.

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 managed through 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.

NHS staff will be able to make on-demand and scheduled requests to use Skyports drones through a web interface.

Other winners of the funding include Isolation +, which uses space-derived data to identify and support vulnerable people, and Stay, which is an app being developed to help charities supporting young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

Science minister Amanda Solloway said: “The projects we are backing today show UK ingenuity at its finest, and will make a real difference to how we use this latest innovative technology to deliver critical healthcare now and long into the future.”

Duncan Walker, Skyports CEO, 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.”

In May researchers said that advanced machine-learning could be applied to drones allowing them to detect ‘butterfly’ landmines in remote regions of post-conflict countries.

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