The University of Southampton will be taking part in a new trial looking into using drones to transport medical supplies across the Solent to support the response to COVID-19.
The trial, the first of its kind, is part of the Future Transport Zone (FTZ) project funded by the Department for Transport, to use an unmanned ariel vehicle (UAV) drone designed and built by the University of Southampton for Windracers. If successful, the trial will provide transport of medical supplies and equipment to St Mary’s Hospital, Isle of Wight from Southampton General Hospital via the Solent Airport. It will serve as a backup to the existing logistics system using the ferries, which have a reduced service during the Covid-19 crisis.
University of Southampton, Solent Transport and Windracers are advancing an aspect of the four-year project, which aims to develop an air traffic management system to oversee the safe movement of both manned and unmanned aircraft in shared airspace. Part of this work would involve the trial of various types of unmanned aircraft and how these might benefit the logistics operations of medical supply between the three hospitals in Hampshire – Southampton General Hospital, Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth and St Mary’s Hospital on the Isle of Wight. The project intends to increase efficiency, in the long term reduce costs and transportation time of medical supplies between NHS locations.
The present work will involve a Windracers ULTRA UAV drone flying between the Isle of Wight and the mainland in an operation overseen by the Professors Tom Cherrett and Jim Scanlan from the University.
Tom Cherrett, Professor of Logistics and Transport Management at the University of Southampton said “The concept of using drones to deliver medical supplies has been proven in countries such as Rwanda where they are helping to save lives by reaching isolated communities quickly and cheaply. The research we are embarking on over the next four years will investigate how such unmanned systems could be used in shared airspace and integrated within existing logistics operations in the UK. Originally the trials were not due to start until next year but we have brought these forward, recognising that the Windracers Ultra could provide an additional service to the NHS on the Isle of Wight should they need it as part of their Covid-19 response.”
The Windracers ULTRA UAV, is a large, double engine, fix winged, drone with a carrying capacity of up to 100Kg, in a space around the size of an estate car boot. In the initial operation it will be carrying loads of not more than 40Kg and the type of cargo will depend on the needs of the hospital and be subject to permissions granted by the Civil Aviation Authority.
Councillor Jacqui Rayment, Southampton Cabinet Member for Place & Transport and Chair of Solent Transport Joint Committee said, “We are very excited to support this ground-breaking trial of aerial drone delivery of medical supplies, which will help improve access to healthcare and save lives.”
Councillor Ian Ward, Cabinet Member for Transport at Isle of Wight, said “I am delighted that the Solent Transport, partners of which we are one, have worked together DfT and the University, at such speed to make this something that can support Island, its community and most importantly the NHS in these difficult times”.
Charles Scales, CEO of Windracers said “We are very pleased that we are able to contribute to helping the NHS fight Covid-19. We have been working with the University of Southampton for over three years to design and build the Windracers ULTRA UAV. Our aim has always been to provide a fast, cost effective service to transport humanitarian aid, medical supplies or other critical supplies over long distances, over land or water or hostile terrain or to deliver where other vehicles or aircraft are unable to.”
Maggie Oldham, Chief Executive at Isle of Wight NHS Trust, said:
“Providing NHS services on an island comes with a number of challenges, so it is fantastic to see the progress being made to support health care on the Isle of Wight through the use of new and innovative technology.
“We have already done a huge amount of work to prepare for the impact of Covid-19 – working with our island partners, colleagues across the Solent and the military. This trial shows that everything possible is being done to support our local community.
“In the long-term, this work has the potential to significantly improve services for our patients by reducing waiting times for test results and speeding up the transfer of important, possibly life-saving medication.”