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GROUND-BREAKING UK-FIRST DRONE DELIVERY TRIAL ‘A RESOUNDING SUCCESS’
An innovative partnership between London-based technology firm Neuron Innovations Ltd, ‘drone-in-a-box’ provider Herotech8, and specialist insurance and risk management company, Flock, is celebrating a successful proof-of-concept trial for their ground-breaking MediDrone delivery project.
Held in late April at Montrose Port in Angus, which is positioning itself as Scotland’s first drone port, the UK-first trial saw Covid-19 test kits transported from the quayside to an offshore vessel. Watch footage from The Courier here.
Multiple efficiency benefits
Speaking afterwards, Neuron COO Aleks Kowalski said: “The trials were a resounding success showing the possibilities MediDrone can enable for ship-to-shore deliveries using automated flights with technology to ensure safe separation between aircraft...We also flew to a very small landing platform on a pilot boat to indicate the accuracy of these systems, such that if it was to be scaled to larger vessels at sea that would be easily achievable.”
As well as packages, drone technology can deliver multiple efficiency benefits, cutting costs, time and the risk of infection, as well as improving safety. In Angus, the advantages were obvious. Frequent trips out to vessels by pilot boats are time-consuming and can be hazardous, with crew having to climb up rope ladders. Hamish Murray of Montrose Port Authority said: “It was great to see how well the trials went and really interesting to see how this technology could benefit businesses like ours in future. Whenever a vessel comes into our port, a pilot has to board to navigate it in, which brings with it obvious risks. By taking Covid tests or medication to the vessel by drone it takes away any risk of person-to-person contact...This is a very exciting time for Montrose Port and these trials add another string to our bow.”
Solving global challenges
Project MediDrone, which uses remotely operated unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), has been funded by a grant from UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI’s) Future Flight Challenge, which seeks to solve major global challenges. The aim of the project at the moment is to develop a network of small drones that will follow paths between medical facilities. They can serve as high-speed shuttles for small medical packages, which limits human contact and thereby reduces the risk of transmitting Covid-19 to vulnerable patients. Drones will automatically take off and land, following pre-programmed waypoints during flight. Pilots will monitor the drone throughout to ensure the public and other airspace users are protected.
The project harnesses Herotech8’s automated recharging station and communications relay, which allows drones to be operated remotely by pilots potentially hundreds of miles away, with Neuron’s sensor agnostic Drone Surveillance Network which provides pilots with a complete airspace picture, and Flock’s specialist insurance.
Before the trial, Niall Greenwood, CEO at Neuron, said: “Drones offer a much safer, faster, and more cost-effective method of delivery compared with more traditional approaches. By connecting the drone to Neuron’s surveillance network we have made a significant step to enabling these kinds of applications on a routine basis.”
A unique opportunity
In the medium term, the teams involved in the Angus trial hope that local drone operators will help them to showcase similar use cases to help benefit the community and businesses in the area. “Securing this trial is a unique opportunity for Montrose and adds to the growing list of innovative projects going on within the port and the broader local community,” said Hamish Murray. “We already work closely with the team behind the proposed Montrose Drone Port and as well as using our quayside for the trials, our pilot boat and other port personnel will also be heavily involved. With our growing reputation within the offshore wind industry, as well as traditional oil and gas and general cargo, we can see drones potentially becoming a common sight in the skies above the port and at sea, and I’m glad that we are able to play such a pivotal role in helping shape the future of this exciting technology.”
Joining other exciting new drone-delivery projects such as Skyfarer, based out of Coventry University, and Irish startup Manna Aero, MediDrone could well prove a game-changer in bringing time-critical medical care closer to patients. As Sam Golden, Head of Marketing at Flock, puts it: “Great things can happen when companies are given the space to collaborate.”