Building from the momentum of previous and ongoing activities in the nation, drone services and vertiport builder Skyports has agreed to operate a test program in Scotland aiming to launch routine aerial deliveries of hot meals to remote schools in the Highlands and Hebrides islands.
As Skyports previously demonstrated in its activities using UAVs to transport mail and urgent medical supplies during spikes in the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s no doubt about the feasibility and effectiveness of drone deliveries of goods to far-flung or difficult to access schools in Scotland. What the trials will explore, however, is how an aerial shuttling of hot lunches abord craft with rather modest payload limits can be organized and scaled in a way to provide food for all students to be served.
The company was tapped by the nation’s western Argyll and Bute region that includes 23 inhabited islands and remote rural communities. Based on positive past experience with innovative drone services, members of its governing council again turned to Skyports to examine the delivery of meals to those remote schools, and areas where ground transport is laborious or impossible.
Initial testing will operate flights between the West Coast Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Innovation Logistics Hub being built at the local Orban Airport and a school 1.5 km distance away.
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Skyports is also playing a central role in the conception and construction of that multi-functional drone services and training facility, which is itself an example of how Scottish officials are embracing drone tech within a broader modernization effort. That’s being financed in part by the $85.5 million Argyll and Bute Rural Growth Deal, as well as financing within the UK’s $2.4 billion development fund for Scotland. The Orban drone hub is expected to be completed by March 2025.
The project to use drones to deliver meals to schools is another step in Scotland’s effort to expand the uses of non-polluting UAVs in public service.
“We have already seen how drones can deliver essential medical supplies to our islands and now we want to make sure all pupils have access to healthy school meals,” said Argyll and Bute councilor Robin Currie. “We are committed to connecting remote and island communities to vital mainland services. The possibilities of using UAVs to improve services to our communities is quite staggering. Argyll and Bute is the perfect location to test the efficiency of drone technology.”
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Officials are hoping to enlist public enthusiasm for the increased deployment of UAVs through a demonstration of the craft at the site of the future Orban Airport hub. Included in that will be an explanation of Skyports’ trial run of drone meal deliveries to schools, and clarification on how vehicles with currently limited payload capacities may eventually be scaled to serve all students involved.
“While the aircraft has a maximum payload of three kg – clearly not sufficient for feeding a classroom of hungry students – this is an important stage in the development of deliveries of this type,” said Alex Brown, head of Skyports’ drone deliveries unit. “(It) will enable us to complete important proof of concept and feasibility trials… The learnings from this early stage of the project will help to pave the way for wider-scale operations.”