Home » UK’s first medical drone delivery project gathers pace

UK’s first medical drone delivery project gathers pace

by Sion Geschwindt
medical drone delivery

A consortium led by AGS Airports, in partnership with NHS Scotland, has launched the next phase of its plan to create the UK’s first medical distribution network using drones.

The initiative, known as Project CAELUS (Care & Equity – Healthcare Logistics UAS Scotland), secured £10.1m funding from the Future Flight Challenge at UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) last month.

CAELUS brings together 16 partners including engineering consultancy Atkins, the University of Strathclyde, Arup, Connected Places Catapult, Skyports, and NATS.

Together they are working to deliver what would be the first national drone network that can transport essential medicines, bloods and other medical supplies throughout Scotland including to remote communities.

Medical drone delivery

Since securing £1.5 million in January 2020, the CAELUS consortium has designed drone landing stations for NHS sites across Scotland and developed a virtual model (digital twin) of the proposed delivery network which connects hospitals, pathology laboratories, distribution centres and GP surgeries across Scotland.

NHS Scotland has said it will bring its “Once for Scotland” approach to the project, the second phase of which will involve live flight trials and removing remaining barriers to safely using drones at scale within Scotland’s airspace.

Chris Crombie, technical director at Atkins which will provide the land-based infrastructure including landing pods for the network, said: “This is a hugely important project that will pave the way for increased use of this technology in our skies, and finding more efficient ways to build larger and more connected networks that reach people most in need.

“This type of project is not only developing the use of technology in delivering essential services but also helps to demonstrate the potential that Advanced Air Mobility can offer communities in rural locations as well as urban environments.

“We’re pleased to be able to draw upon our extensive experience in the aviation sector to develop sustainable and creative infrastructure solutions, to meet the needs of the network and expand the work we are delivering across the AAM market.”

Fiona Smith, AGS Airports Group Head of Aerodrome Strategy and CAELUS Project Director, added: “We were delighted when we heard we were receiving the £10.1m funding from UKRI to move onto the next phase of the project.

“The CAELUS project is set to revolutionise the way in which healthcare services are delivered in Scotland. A drone network can ensure critical medical supplies can be delivered more efficiently, it can reduce waiting times for test results and, more importantly, it can provide equity of care between urban and remote rural communities.

Live flight trials will be operated by CAELUS consortium member Skyports. The UK-based drone services provider is an experienced operator of medical and dangerous goods cargo flights. The company was instrumental to early trial flights with NHS Scotland in 2020 and 2021, completing over 12,000 of flight hours in the region to date.

Image credit: Es sarawuth/Shutterstcok

Read next: UK consortium wins £9.5m to build ‘world’s first air mobility ecosystem’

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