A consortia working to establish a UAV/Drone Emergency Medical Airbridge between Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly to supplement existing NHS medical supply chain are among the first wave of winners to secure a share of £33m funding from the Government to use aviation to solve major global challenges.
DronePrep, which is based at Worcestershire technology accelerator BetaDen in Malvern, is leading a consortium that has been awarded a share of the initial £7m funds to support project using unmanned aerial vehicles to deliver critical PPE and Covid-19 testing kits to vulnerable rural communities in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.
The project unites the two pioneering drone delivery companies that have previously deployed in response to the UK COVID-19 challenge – Windracers and Skyports – for the first time. The DronePrep project will be the first UK project to provide a joined-up collaborative solution that uses both long-range, large payload drones in addition to flexible Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) drones. This will allow for point-to-point and inter-island delivery
The same consortia also secured funding from the Department for Transport (DfT) as part of the Future Transport Zone (FTZ) project earlier in the year with the aim of transporting medical supplies and equipment to St Mary’s Hospital, Isle of Wight from Southampton General Hospital via the Solent Airport in only 20 minutes. That trial, which was fast-tracked in March involved a Windracers ULTRA UAV drone providing additional transit service for small unit loads as a backup to the existing logistics system. It was the UK’s first CAA approved BVLOS service.
Claire Owen, a co-founder at DronePrep, said: “We’re really pleased to have secured a share of this first wave of funding, which will allow us to provide practical support to the NHS this Winter. It builds on the work we have been undertaking in the region, engaging with landowners on both the mainland and the Isles of Scilly to help define future flight plans.”
Gareth Whatmore, the co-founder of DronePrep, added: “The project this new funding will support is a great illustration of how opening up low-level airspace in a safe and coordinated way can support the health and wellbeing of communities in difficult-to-access areas.
“One of the aims of our first project was to develop our understanding of the needs of landowners and regulators so we could open up flexible drone corridors to support the local community. This new project is the first real-life manifestation of that vision.”
“We are delighted that local stakeholders and the UK’s leading drone delivery providers and experts have joined forces with us to make meaningful strides for innovation in this sector, while responding to the COVID-19 challenge”
The funding comes from the Government’s Future Flight Challenge, which aims to increase mobility, reduce reliance on road travel and increase UK manufacturing opportunities. This first-wave of funding is being used to support innovative projects harnessing the latest technology to support the fight against COVID-19, as well as other challenges such as climate change.
Business and Industry Minister, Nadhim Zahawi, said: “As the UK leads the way in the aviation revolution, these bold proposals showcase the pioneering spirit of the UK’s aerospace and aviation industries in solving global issues, and those facing us here in the UK.
“Today we have announced over £7 million of funding for projects across the country which demonstrate how using the latest and most cutting-edge aviation technologies can step up our response to the coronavirus pandemic, help us build back better and cement our well-earned reputation for research and development excellence, while creating hundreds of new jobs.”
Transport Minister Rachel Maclean said: “The UK is already a world-leader when it comes to innovation in aviation and this funding will allow us to carry on supporting the extraordinary work taking place right across the country.
“Innovation delivers real change and our support for dynamic ideas in this exciting sector means we are now seeing real life solutions, like the drone delivery of COVID-19 medical supplies, for challenges such as public health and climate change.”