UK consortium to boost health care with medical drones

A drone flying with a grey sky in the background

A UK-based consortium made up of Skyfarer, O2, Cranfield University, Phoenix Wings, and Altitude Angel is attempting to improve health care by creating a drone network that can speed up patient response and sample return times as well as make blood deliveries needed for transfusions.

In the future, the consortium hopes to create a national infrastructure that will enable same-day delivery with autonomous drones but for the time being, it will be focusing on the Midlands area of England which include cities such as Birmingham, Coventry, Leicester, and Wolverhampton.

In terms of its progress so far, the consortium has secured operational authorisation for extended visual line of sight operations (EVLOS) with an overweight unmanned aircraft system (UAS) from the Civil Aviation Authority. This will allow the group to do short-range flight tests which are due to commence after Easter.

In the next stage of the project, the consortium is going to carry out a study that will find out the best location for a potential drone corridor where UAVs will be able to deliver medical supplies without the need for a human driver. In the summer, the consortium will also perform delivery trials to see how the hardware performs.

If the consortium can prove UAVs are an effective method for medical supply deliveries it will improve the supply of blood needed for transfusions and it could also reduce the number of heavy-good vehicles on the roads. HGVs currently make up 17% of the UK’s domestic transport emissions so taking some of these off the roads will be beneficial.

Each of the members of the consortium is bringing unique expertise and resources. O2 will work with Ofcom to develop SIM cards for use in drones making medical deliveries to ensure they fly safely, Cranfield University will help stage the trials with its airport, Altitude Angel has the technology to let the consortium’s drones share airspace with planes safely and securely, Phoenix Wings will be providing a drone capable of carrying blood, and Skyfarer will co-ordinate. O2 said that Innovate UK will provide the funding for the project.

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