UK drone delivery network for medical supplies begins testing

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Mobile network O2 and drone firm Skyfarer are together creating the infrastructure for a new drone network, intended to facilitate fast delivery of Covid-19 supplies and blood samples.

The hope is that the drone network will speed up patient response and sample turnaround times, whilst also making drone delivery of blood for lifesaving transfusions a reality.

The technology has already been used in this way with PPE and coronavirus test kits being distributed via drone on the remote Argyll and Bute islands off the west coast of Scotland.

The latest proposals would create a national infrastructure enabling same-day delivery with autonomous drones.

The project has now received operational authorisation for “extended visual line of sight operations” with an overweight unmanned aircraft system from the Civil Aviation Authority.

This gives the consortium behind the project - which also includes Cranfield University, Phoenix Wings and Altitude Angel - the green light to conduct short-range flight demonstrations as part of the project. O2 has said it will provide SIM cards to allow 4G and 5G mobile devices to be used to control and fly the drones.

These will test the capabilities of drones for logistics, with technology trials taking place after Easter and delivery trials taking place over the summer.

Other advantages of the drone network include greener transportation, as drones are typically battery powered, with no additional impact on road congestion.

Figures from the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy last year showed that transport remained the largest source of carbon emissions in the UK at 28 per cent, with energy supply on 23 per cent.

Around 2.5m units of blood are processed and distributed in the UK every year and more than 200,000 new blood donors are required to give blood every year across England to replace those who can no longer donate regularly.

Consortium partner Phoenix Wings is a German drone manufacturer who is supporting the project by providing a drone with a payload capacity that can meet 97 per cent of vital blood delivery requirements in England.

Elliot Parnham, Founder and CEO at Skyfarer, said: “Our future flight challenge project backed by UKRI will bring medical drone delivery to the UK and make a lasting difference to the capabilities of logistics within a nation. Skyfarer will set up the UK’s first medical drone delivery network with lifesaving potential.”

Derek McManus, COO at O2, said: “This technology not only has the power to support the healthcare system and save lives, but also reduce emissions usually released by traditional medical delivery transport, helping to build a greener future for Britain.”

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