Regular drone delivery of COVID-19 tests to begin in Scotland

Regular drone flights are about to commence shuttling COVID-19 tests, personal protective equipment, and other medical supplies between two communities in Scotland. There was a proof-of-concept phase last year, but the service is about to become fully operational.

There’s no question drones can be useful for medical deliveries. This is especially true in countries with less developed infrastructure. Zipline has proven how effective deliveries can be with its operations in Rwanda and Ghana. Now, drones are being put to use shuttling supplies between two rural regions in Scotland.

Specifically, those flights are taking place between medical facilities in the Argyll and Bute regions.

The deets

The drones can carry up to three kilograms (6.6 pounds) of critical medical supplies up to 65 kilometres (40 miles). COVID-19 testing kits, medicines, personal protective equipment, and even test samples are being shuttled.

The flights are being managed by Skyports, an Advanced Air Mobility company. The firm is also the first operator to receive permission from the UK Civil Aviation Authority to carry diagnostic specimens by drone.

A huge savings in time

Getting supplies between these two regions in Scotland is normally a very time-consuming task involving travel both on rural roads and by ferry. And so the use of drone is vastly more efficient:

Using delivery drones, access to hard-to-reach areas can be improved, significantly increasing the speed of transport andreducing times in some areas of the Argyll & Bute region from up to 36 hours for a road and ferry journey to 15 mins, while also increasing the frequency of pick- ups. The drone delivery service will initially operate between Lorn & Islands Hospital in Oban, Mid-Argyll Community Hospital in Lochgilphead, Easdale Medical Practice in Clachan Seil and the Mull & Iona Community Hospital in Craignure.

The drone

Skyports will be using a Swoop Aero platform. The drones fly pre-programmed flights with C2 communication over the 4G network. There will be both regularly scheduled flights, as well as on-demand runs. National Health Service staff will be able to order custom flights online.

That fuselage is quickly detachable for payload swaps…

Here’s what the VTOL drone looks like. It’s a platform that’s been proven elsewhere. That lightweight “fuselage,” by the way, is actually a container for the payload and quickly swappable.

This is the platform.

The mood

There’s a lot of optimism around this project:

Using drone deliveries within supply chains can create significant time and cost savings.  This initiative is a natural progression from our recent trials with the NHS in Scotland as we scale our operations, supporting a wider network of hospitals and medical practices as they continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The experience from this important initiative will put us another step closer to permanent operations from which we hope more NHS facilities could soon benefit. This project underscores the viability of drone technology as a practical way to move goods.”

Duncan Walker, chief executive officer at Skyports

And here’s the view from Stephen Whiston, head of strategic planning for Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership:

Argyll and Bute HSCP is delighted to once again be at the forefront of using this innovative technology to assess how unmanned drones can enhance our logistics operations and improve services for patients and clinicians in some of our most remote and island communities. This three-month project working with Skyports will provide critical evidence on the real benefits this technology can bring to the NHS not only in Argyll and Bute but across Scotland.

This is the future…

It really is. Shaving nearly 36 hours off of transport time is a huge difference.

We wish all parties success with this project, and look forward to its eventual expansion.