A major trial has proven the potential to deliver crucial medical supplies to hospitals via drone – saving time, money, and carbon emissions.
Coventry-based Skyfarer; its partner, Medical Logistics UK; and drone manufacturer, Phoenix Wings, conducted the feasibility pilot with University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire (UHCW) NHS Trust’s hospitals in Coventry and Rugby.
An initial three-month trial saw medical supplies moved between the two hospitals from a central hub in the region using PW One drones, designed and manufactured by Phoenix Wings.
That was followed by a further trial with an Orca drone, which is faster and can carry a 15kg payload, compared to 500g.
The Medical Logistics UK corridor connected 32km of airspace between the two hospitals and saw a host of supplies moved across the skies by the drone in a process managed by Skyfarer.
Flights took place at a range of times in the day and in a host of different weather conditions and cut down the delivery time to just 18 minutes compared to around 45 minutes by van across the 32km journey.
And, without restrictions around flight path, it could have completed the journey in just eight minutes.
Overall, it led to a carbon saving of more than 85%.
The aim of the trial was to help ease the growing pressures on the healthcare system, where there is an ever-expanding need for hospitals to receive vital time-sensitive medical supplies.
It was approved by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and also had the backing of four different mobile network providers, including BT, to ensure the drone had the strongest-possible connectivity when in flight.
Georgia Hanrahan of Skyfarer said: “More people have walked on the moon than been given the permissions to do the kind of trial we have just carried out, it is that rare.
“We’ve operated in daytime, nighttime, and in restricted airspace around commercial and recreational flights and we’ve been tested in a lot of different areas when it comes to using this technology for medical supplies and have proven that the feasibility of using drones for medical supplies works.
Up to speed
“The trials have shown that it can be done with the very highest standards of safety and extremely efficiently, which reduces costs and dramatically cuts down on carbon emissions.
“By being able to utilise the Orca, which didn’t previously have clearance to fly in the UK, we have been able to up the speed of delivery and the payload, which opens it up to more uses for the NHS.”
More people have walked on the moon than been given the permissions to do the kind of trial we have just carried out, it is that rare
Elliot Parnham of Skyfarer added: “This aircraft really opens up the market for logistical deliveries within the NHS.
“It allows us to take much larger payloads, over longer distances, much more reliably.
“It gives us the opportunity to move from niche deliveries to a daily occurrence of life-saving supplies for the NHS.”
Jian Wang of Phoenix Wings added: “This is just the beginning and we look forward to growing deliveries of this nature at scale.”
Commenting on the trial, Lucy Gilbert, head of innovation at UHCW NHS Trust, said: “We’re always looking at new, innovative ways of working which can further improve our delivery of patient care.
“This pilot initiative, carried out at no cost to the NHS, will be used to educate and inform the trust and its partners on whether this is a viable and feasible approach moving forward.
“While governance approvals associated with this new method of transport need to be worked through, we look forward to working closely with partners within this emerging industry sector.”
This pilot initiative, carried out at no cost to the NHS, will be used to educate and inform the trust and its partners on whether this is a viable and feasible approach moving forward
Skyfarer was founded in 2017 by Elliot Parnham, an aerospace and engineering graduate from Coventry University with the aim of using drones for good in society, with the first of its projects being medical drone delivery.
This trial was sponsored and made possible by London-based medical courier, Medical Logistics UK, a leading provider of time-sensitive medical deliveries and personalised on-demand medical tests.
It involved a consortium partnership including Phoenix Wings, Altitude Angel, UHCW NHS Trust, Everyware, BT and Airbox Systems.
A film showcasing the trial can be accessed here.