Essential medical supplies – including blood and organs – may soon be delivered to hospitals in Scotland by drones, following the results of an upcoming trial.
A consortium led by AGS Airports, which owns and manages Aberdeen, Glasgow and Southampton airports, aims to create the UK’s first drone distribution network.
The “revolutionary” project has already secured £1.5m from the UK Industrial Strategy Future Flight Challenge Fund to demonstrate how autonomous drone technology can enhance access to essential medical supplies, particularly in rural parts of Scotland.
The consortium, that involves 14 organisations including the University of Strathclyde, is developing a ground infrastructure to recharge drones and the systems to control them while flying.
A key aspect of the project will also be designing pathways to ensure they can safely share airspace with civil aviation.
The project will also consider public safety, security and noise levels.
Watch: Drones trialled to deliver medical supplies
A digital blueprint of the drone delivery network will then be created with the potential to connect hospitals, pathology laboratories, distribution centres and GP surgeries across Scotland.
In a separate project last May, Skyports staged a two-week trial in partnership with NHS Highland using drones to assist with medical deliveries.
The CAELUS (Care & Equity – Healthcare Logistics UAS Scotland) project started on 1 December and will involve live drone flight trials.
On the new network, Derek Provan, chief executive of AGS Airports, said: “This project has the potential to completely revolutionise the way in which healthcare services are delivered in Scotland.
“Not only does drone technology have the ability to speed up the delivery of critical medical supplies, it could reduce waiting times for test results and, more importantly, help provide equity of care between urban and remote rural communities.”
Provan said that, if successful, the CAELUS project “could pave the way for the deployment of drone-enabled logistics in other sectors”.
Economy secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “This innovative project will help position Scotland at the forefront of drone technologies to deliver essential healthcare supplies to people more quickly, especially those living remote locations.”
Professor Sir Jim McDonald, principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Strathclyde, added: “The project aligns with our health technologies research cluster and our long track record of working with industry and the public sector.
“We look forward to demonstrating the potential value of drone delivery of medical supplies for the public, NHS, the economy, social equality and for the aviation manufacturing industry in Scotland.”
Watch: UK’s first commercial drone corridor to open in Reading