Unmanned drones are now performing collection and delivery services in a new series of trials at Scotland’s first drone port. The drones will be transporting medicine, medical equipment, and samples between healthcare facilities beyond a visual line of sight (BVLOS). UK-based Skyports Drone Services is operating the drone flights in partnership with Mercury Drone Ports and National Health Service (NHS) Tayside.
With this new drone delivery service, collected samples can be analyzed at a laboratory more quickly and reliably than other methods. The trials are taking place over an eight-week period in Angus, Scotland, and include routes between Angus and Dundee, a city about 20 miles away.
Councilor Beth Whiteside, Angus Council leader, remarked on the collaboration with NHS Tayside to introduce sustainable drone delivery services in Angus. “The hope is to demonstrate the benefits this form of transportation can bring, for example, potentially reducing testing times and speeding up diagnoses for patients,” she explained.
“We are delighted to be able to lead the way through using innovative technologies to increase connectivity with our rural facilities, [whilst] reducing our carbon footprint as we begin to tackle the climate emergency with a green infrastructure first approach,” Whiteside added.
Skyports Drone Services, the company operating the drones, has conducted several drone delivery projects in Scotland. The Skyports team conducted medical drone deliveries in a three-month-long project last summer, transporting COVID-19 test samples and kits—along with other medical supplies—between four facilities.
Skyports intends to eventually establish permanent drone operations across Scotland with unmanned electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicles. “We’ll be demonstrating a range of drone use cases, including the delivery of medical equipment for NHS Tayside and survey operations for Angus Council,” commented Skyports Flight Operations Manager, Alistair Skitmore, in the announcement.
“Our objective with these flights is to highlight the vast benefits and use cases for drone operations to regulators, government, and local communities.”
Mercury Drone Ports, Scotland’s first drone port and drone delivery network, is a public-private partnership that has received funding from the UK Government’s Angus Fund. The UK government is investing £26.5 million (nearly $30M USD) into projects in Angus, Scotland.
Mercury Drone Ports provides an area of airspace for drone companies and end-users to conduct flight trials, both onshore and offshore. The drone port will be based within the ZeroFour Hub, a partnership between Angus Council and Crown Estate Scotland.
The team at NHS Tayside hopes to extend phlebotomy testing hours at some facilities in the region, and drone delivery could make that possible by efficiently transporting samples to the main testing lab.
“We believe a drone delivery service will help to improve diagnostic sample transport times across Angus and other rural areas, helping NHS Tayside to provide an equitable level of healthcare, regardless of a patient’s geographical location,” said Chris Hind, Diagnostics Laboratories Interim Quality Manager at NHS Tayside.
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