AGS Airports is leading a consortium in CAELUS, a project to develop and trial the UK’s first national distribution network using drones to transport medicines and medical supplies throughout Scotland.
The AGS led consortium, which brings together 14 organisations including Strathclyde University and air traffic control provider NATS, 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 CAELUS (Care & Equity – Healthcare Logistics UAS Scotland) project started on 1 December and will involve live drone flight trials. In addition to developing the ground infrastructure needed to recharge the drones and the systems to control them while flying, a key aspect of the project will be to ensure that drones can safely share airspace with civil aviation. The project will also ensure critical aspects such as public safety, security and noise levels are considered.
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. The project is scheduled to run until Spring 2022.
AGS Airports owns and manages Aberdeen, Glasgow and Southampton airports. Company chief executive Derek Provan 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.
“Although our focus is on healthcare, the CAELUS project could pave the way for the deployment of drone-enabled logistics in other sectors and has the potential to change the way airspace is used by manned and unmanned vehicles. It also has clear environmental benefits as it will play a key role in reducing the carbon emissions generated by existing, road-based distribution networks within Scotland.”
NHS Ayrshire & Arran and the NHS West of Scotland Innovation Hub will work alongside the AGS led consortium on the project.
Gary Cutts, Future Flight Challenge director, added: “At this very challenging time for the international aviation industry, it is a great testament to the UK’s drive and ambition that we have had such a strong response to the first funded Future Flight competition. The breadth, quality and creativity of the bids has been exceptional and the economic and social benefits offered are very significant. The projects we are now launching will position the UK strongly to drive the third revolution in aviation.”