In what is said to be a first for the UK, a company has revealed its designs for proposed mobile landing pads that would be used by drones delivering vital medical supplies.
AtkinsRéalis, a global design, engineering and project management company, claims its design, presented as part of Project CAELUS, is unique and innovative, and will soon be put to the test in trials.
The company is part of the consortium developing the project, which also includes AGS Airports, NHS Scotland, and the University of Strathclyde.
Live flight trials for the UK’s first national drone distribution network are due shortly, the consortium says. The purpose is to use drones to transport essential medicines, blood, organs, and other medical supplies throughout Scotland.
The network, part of the UK government’s Future Flight Challenge, is intended to ensure critical medical supplies can be delivered more efficiently. It is claimed it can also help to reduce waiting times for test results and, crucially, provide equity of care between urban and remote rural communities.
The ground-based infrastructure to support the network is being designed by AtkinsRéalis and the initial concepts for the landing pads have been revealed for the first time.
The design is said to be entirely unique, taking its cue from nature to create an origami-inspired structure made of strong, lightweight aluminium, with a lid which will open and close like the petals of a flower.
Innovation and sustainability are at the heart of the design with the intention of making it off-grid by incorporating photo voltaic (PV) panels where possible, to generate the power required to operate its lid and re-charge the drone.
And, due to the mobile and lightweight nature of the design, its designers say the unit will leave “virtually no trace” on the environment wherever it is placed.
Chris Crombie, lead designer on the project for AtkinsRéalis, said: “Project CAELUS has the potential to revolutionise how rural and remote communities receive vital supplies in future. The landing infrastructure is an important part of how the network can integrate with those communities.
“There are a number of considerations in terms of the practical function of this pad as it has to be able to fit into a van or on a trailer to transport it, so it needs to be lightweight. But at the same time it needs to be secure from the elements and strong enough for the job it’s designed for.
“This is the initial design stage but what the team has developed is an entirely unique concept which deliberately echoes the environment it operates in, with its flower-like design. We have essentially come up with a three-piece set of luggage to house the landing pad, the drone and medical supplies safely and securely.
“It has sustainability at its heart and, most importantly will provide NHS Scotland with the infrastructure it needs to operate the drone network and make a real difference to people’s lives.”
The drone landings will be overseen by operators on the ground and separate cases have been designed, which enable them to store the medical supplies securely, and to take the drone off its pad for repairs and maintenance when necessary.
The landing pads will be positioned at sites such as GP surgeries, medical centres and hospitals where the drones can land safely, and the unit can be stored securely while supplies are delivered.
Fiona Smith, spokesperson for Project CAELUS, said: “These initial designs from AtkinsRéalis really bring to life the potential for this important drone network, and it’s exciting to see such an innovative design taking shape.
“The ground-based infrastructure is obviously a crucial part of the project in order to support the drones and will ensure we can make the delivery of essential medical supplies throughout Scotland including to remote communities.”
The next stage in the development of the pad will be the fabrication of a working prototype, which is due to be tested in real world conditions early in 2024.
Project CAELUS is part funded by Innovate UK’s Future Flight Challenge and has secured £7m of funding to develop the network. The consortium brings together 16 partners including the University of Strathclyde, NATS and NHS Scotland.
The project is one of a raft of initiatives in the Advanced Air Mobility sector where AtkinsRéalis is taking a leading role to help develop and commercialise novel technology and solutions, from innovative drone technology and eVTOLs to decarbonising airport infrastructure and the development of sustainable aviation fuel.
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