UK startups trial medical drone deliveries in exacting real-world scenarios

UK medical drone delivery

A duo of UK startups working to improve deliveries of materials critical for medical care is pairing up to trial beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) drone flights in exacting real-world scenarios over a three-month period between Warwickshire hospitals.

The partnership has been formed by UAV service provider Skyfarer, which will elevate the previously ground-based activities of London courier company Medical Logistics UK to the skies. Together they’ll rely on a dedicated 32 km corridor approved by UK regulator Civil Aviation Authority to provide BVLOS drone deliveries of a wide range of materials for medical use between hospitals in Coventry and Rugby in central England. Plans call for scheduled, on-demand, and simulated emergency flights to be operated on the same 24/4 basis hospitals do, and in whatever weather conditions those coincide with.

The first objective of the campaign is similar to previous testing of drone medical deliveries, most of which use BVLOS methods due to distances involved: to cut the time and cost involved in habitual ground transportation over often clogged roads.

“There are no potholes in the sky, nor is there as much congestion,” said Skyfarer project manager Georgia Hanrahan. “And without the need for heavy infrastructure to land, UAVs can add to the fleet of logistical transfers and provide a faster, more sustainably friendly and cheaper solution.”

Read: Drones to speed UK hospital transport of patient lab samples 

But the Skyfarer-Medical Logistics UK trials will also add a wide range of unexpected, often challenging scenarios to the mix as a means of confirming real-life viability of their medical drone delivery model. 

What’s more, the test run will represent the start of the UK’s “Skyway” drone corridor project’s third phase. That effort is headed by the UK government’s next-generation aviation promotional initiative Future Flight, and aims to create a 265 km UAV superhighway with support from uncrewed aircraft traffic management specialist, Altitude Angel.

The Coventry-Rugby medical drone deliveries will mark a major step in the expected two-year push to create the UK’s “Skyway,” but for Skyfarer founder Elliot Parnham it also represents a return to the kind of activity that motivated him to focus on UAV operation in the first place.

“I started Skyfarer back in 2017 and it was all on that message of trying to provide societal change… through this new high value technology of UAVs being used in positive use cases like medical delivery,” Parnham says.

ReadOfficials seek to link three UK hospitals by drone supply shuttles 

In addition to using taxing real-world situations to establish the efficiency and reliability of hospitals using drones to deliver critical medical payloads, the trial also seeks to establish a new UK mark for BVLOS flights in a set period.

But the most important objective, says Medical Logistics UK directing manager Alex Landowski, is increasing the ways UAVs are deployed to improve life for countless people.

“I welcome our new partnership as an opportunity to revolutionize the UK medical supply chain,” says Landowski. “With our emission-free solution, this UK first trial over land will conduct a record-breaking number of routine and ad-hoc medical deliveries.”

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