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uk's first drone distribution centre launches in h2 of 2021.

Glasgow Airport to host UK first drone distribution centre

The Caelus (Care & Equity - Healthcare Logistics UAS Scotland) project will distribute key medical supplies including blood and transplant organs to hard to reach areas by remote controlled drone. Live flights will be trialled in the second half of 2021.

Headed by AGS Airports, a 14 partner consortium including Strathclyde University is seeking to revolutionise the way healthcare services could be delivered in future. The project is based on a digital blueprint developed by researchers at Strathclyde connecting distribution centres, pathology laboratories, hospitals and GP surgeries across Scotland to the drone delivery network.

Logistic challenges

Using delivery drones presents the project with a number of logistical challenges. In addition to developing extensive ground infrastructure allowing drones to recharge and be remotely controlled, there are issues around sharing airspace with civil aviation.

Strathclyde is also leading on the development of a digital twin model for recharging the fully autonomous drones which employ vertical landing and takeoff but fly like fixed wing aircraft. Technical challenges like drones flying out of line of sight and satisfying regulatory requirements for the Civil Aviation Authority remain.

Issues around the transport of critical payloads, including donor organs which require specific temperatures and conditions, will need to be resolved before winning approval from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.

The consortium will also look at all aspects of public safety, including noise levels and security. Gatwick Airport notoriously ground to a halt in 2018 after reports of drones flying close to the runways.

Wider implications

Professor Massimiliano Vasile, Director of the Aerospace Centre of Excellence at the University of Strathclyde, said the project had important implications for Scotland's aerospace industry and the development of green aviation.

It should also speed up delivery times for medical supplies and reduce waiting times for tests delivering, as the project name implies, more equity of care between urban and rural areas.

While the focus of the Caelus project is on healthcare, the consortium of players agree that the trial could pave the way for the deployment of drone enabled logistics across a range of other sectors. There are also clear environmental benefits in using drones rather than road-based distribution networks to cut carbon emissions.

Innovative drone technology

The consortium, which also includes ANRA technologies, Connected Places Catapult, Schneider Electric, SP Energy Network, The Drone Office, Trax International and uAvionix, clearly demonstrates the benefits of universities, the public sector and private business working together to outperform the competition and demonstrate the potential value of drone technology.

Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (Hial) have also announced a project to use drones to deliver medical supplies as part of a wider green aviation initiative in the Orkneys. Kirkwall Airport will become the UK's first low carbon aviation centre and will test electric and hydrogen powered aircraft.

Derek Provan, AGS Airport's chief executive, called the organisations within the consortium some of the 'most skilled' in the UK when it comes to drone technology. Additional funding from the UK Industrial Strategy will hope the project deal with scaling the operation to deliver a network that is financially, technically and socially viable.

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