Monday, 01 March 2021

4G drones delivering NHS supplies to remote parts of Scotland

by Harry Baldock, Total Telecom
Tuesday 23 February 21

Piloted drones connected to Vodafone’s 4G network can travel up to 40 miles, drastically shortening the delivery times for crucial medical supplies

Vodafone has been very active over the last couple of years when it comes to the potential for drones, especially in the UK. In January of 2020, before the reality of the coronavirus became apparent, Vodafone was already reporting the results of a study it had commissioned, finding that the majority of British people would support the use of drones to assist the emergency services…

Vodafone has been very active over the last couple of years when it comes to the potential for drones, especially in the UK. In January of 2020, before the reality of the coronavirus became apparent, Vodafone was already reporting the results of a study it had commissioned, finding that the majority of British people would support the use of drones to assist the emergency services, provided they were regulated effectively.

Little did they know that just a few months later the world would enter the largest healthcare crisis in modern memory.

By July, Vodafone UK had partnered with space-tech specialist Skyports and Deloitte to explore the potential of 4G-connected drones delivering medical supplies to isolated regions in Scotland. Now, following approval from the Civil Aviation Authority, the project is coming to fruition, with the first deliveries now taking place.

The remotely piloted drones have a range of around 40 miles and can carry up to 3kg of medical supplies each. Currently, pilots at Skyports’ operation centre in Oban, are flying the drones on-demand to remote medical facilities in western Scotland, including 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.

Transporting the medical supplies via drone not only greatly decreases the cost of delivery, but also radically reduces the time required. In some scenarios, deliveries that could previously have taken 36 hours can now take as little as 15 minutes. The Argyll & Bute’s NHS authorities will measure the success of the project during the following three-month trial.

Vodafone has great ambitions for using drones in a variety of scenarios, from emergency service support to site maintenance and delivery services. In November last year, the operator teamed up with Ericsson to help use mobile network data to help map flight paths for the connected drones of the future. In addition, Vodafone was part of a consortium of aviation, aerospace, and telco players led by Sees.Ai that won a share of a £30 million to test a remotely operated drone system for industrial and urban environments.

There is still a long way to go before drone deliveries become mainstream, not least the logistical challenge of managing airborne traffic, but projects like this are showing the real-world benefits that such work can deliver.

 

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