A project involving Strathclyde to deliver the UK’s first national medical distribution network using drones has taken a step forward by conducting live flight trials.
Live flying took place between Glasgow Airport and NHS Golden Jubilee in Clydebank earlier this week.
Led by AGS Airports in partnership with NHS Scotland, Project CAELUS (Care & Equity – Healthcare Logistics UAS Scotland), is part funded by the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Flight Challenge.
It brings together 16 partners including Strathclyde, Skyports Drone Services, NATS and NHS Scotland. Together they are working to deliver what will be the first national drone network that can transport essential medicines, bloods and other medical supplies throughout Scotland including to remote communities.
Since January 2020, the CAELUS consortium has designed drone landing stations for NHS sites across Scotland and developed a virtual model - digital twin - of the proposed delivery network which connects hospitals, pathology laboratories, distribution centres and GP surgeries across Scotland.
Live flight trials were operated by CAELUS consortium member Skyports Drone Services. The UK-based operator is an experienced provider of drone delivery, survey and monitoring services and has a long history of operating medical drone deliveries, including the first drone deliveries with the NHS.
Fiona Smith, AGS Airports Group Head of Aerodrome Strategy and CAELUS Project Director, said: “These flight trials are an important step towards the integration of drones into modern airspace and enabling the safe use of drones at scale within Scotland’s airspace. The input from all partners has resulted in a high quality safety case for the flights undertaken in a busy airport environment which can be transposed for other sites in future.
“It has only been possible because of the hard work of every consortium member.
“The CAELUS project is set to revolutionise the way in which healthcare services are delivered in Scotland. A drones network can ensure critical medical supplies can be delivered more efficiently, it can reduce waiting times for test results and, more importantly, it can provide equity of care between urban and remote rural communities.
“We are delighted to have conducted this live flight trial and look forward to carrying out more in the coming months.”
Dr Marco Fossati, of the Aerospace Centre of Excellence at the University of Strathclyde and CAELUS Principal Investigator at Strathclyde said: “It’s exciting to see the next significant phase of Project CAELUS underway, with live flight trials bringing a potentially revolutionary new mode of medical transport one step closer.”
Karen Bell, Joint Innovation Lead for CAELUS for NHS added: "We are delighted to have had a successful flight trial here in the West Coast of Scotland. Years of preparation with all of our partners have taken us to this point.
“We are well positioned to participate in this drone trial because of our vast geographical area of island and remote populations. This work has the potential to greatly improve our services closer to home. Now we can take the time to reflect on this experience and instil the improvements required.".
Shaun Marshall, the Scottish Ambulance Service’s Project Manager for CAELUS, said: “This innovative scheme has the potential to benefit communities across Scotland, including those in remote and rural areas.”