Skyports has collaborated with Vodafone and Deloitte to transport medical supplies and samples for the NHS in Scotland using drones.
The live flights will take place later this year and will use mobile connectivity and space-based technology.
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 Argyll and Bute on the west coast of Scotland.
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 (GCS) 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.
Duncan Walker, Skyports’ CEO 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.”
While Anne Sheehan, director, 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.”