Drones flying from Glasgow Airport could be used to deliver essential medicine, blood and organs throughout Scotland.
The Renfrewshire site will play a key part in a trial aimed at creating a new drone network designed to transport medical supplies.
AGS Airports, which owns and runs the Paisley transport hub, is one of 14 organisations, including the University of Strathclyde, and air traffic control provider NATS, involved in the innovative scheme, thought to the first of its kind in the UK.
The consortium successfully secured £1.5million from the UK Industrial Strategy Future Flight Challenge Fund to demonstrate how autonomous drone technology can enhance access to essential medical supplies, particularly in rural parts of Scotland.
The CAELUS (Care & Equity – Healthcare Logistics UAS Scotland) project started on December 1 and will involve live drone flight trials.
In addition to developing the ground infrastructure needed to recharge the drones and the systems to control them while flying, a key aspect of the project will be designing pathways to ensure the drones can safely share airspace with civil aviation.
The project will also ensure critical aspects, such as public safety, security and noise levels are considered.
A digital blueprint of the drone delivery network will then be created with the potential to connect hospitals, pathology laboratories, distribution centres and GP surgeries across Scotland.
The project is scheduled to run until spring 2022.
Derek Provan, chief executive of AGS Airports, said: “This project has the potential to completely revolutionise the way in which healthcare services are delivered in Scotland.
“ Not only does drone technology have the ability to speed-up the delivery of critical medical supplies, it could reduce waiting times for test results and, more importantly, help provide equity of care between urban and remote rural communities.
“The organisations within this consortium are some of the most skilled and experienced in drone technology.
“The funding from UK Industrial Strategy will allow us to work together to overcome some of the challenges associated with scaling drone operations to deliver a transport network that is technically, socially and financially viable.
“Although our focus is on healthcare, the CAELUS project could pave the way for the deployment of drone-enabled logistics in other sectors and has the potential to change the way airspace is used by manned and unmanned vehicles.
“It also has clear environmental benefits as it will play a key role in reducing the carbon emissions generated by existing, road-based distribution networks within Scotland.”
The Scottish Government’s Economy Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “This innovative project will help position Scotland at the forefront of drone technologies to deliver essential healthcare supplies to people more quickly, especially those living remote locations.
“It also demonstrates, once again, that when businesses, universities and public sector work together they can deliver for Scotland and outperform the competition, attracting welcome funding at this challenging
Gary Cutts, future flight challenge director, added: “At this very challenging time for the international aviation industry, it is a great testament to the UK’s drive and ambition that we have had such a strong response to the first funded Future Flight competition.
“The breadth, quality and creativity of the bids has been exceptional and the economic and social benefits offered are very significant.
“The projects we are now launching will position the UK strongly to drive the third revolution in aviation.”
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