Drone innovators win £500,000 to improve UK medical supply chain

3rd April 2024
Paige West

£500,000 has been allocated to support five projects within the health sector that utilise drones for the delivery of medicines and medical supplies.

In collaboration with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), Innovate UK has unveiled the most recent recipients of funding through the UKRI Future Flight Challenge. This initiative aims to promote the creative application of drones, enhancing the resilience of medical supply chains in the UK and facilitating faster access to healthcare services for patients.

The interconnected nature of domestic and international medical goods supply chains means that disruptions abroad can impact the availability of medical supplies in the UK. To address this, UKRI is advocating for innovation across various sectors to improve reliability and foster long-term resilience within domestic supplies.

Five projects based in the UK have been selected to receive a share of the £500,000 funding. This investment is intended to deepen the understanding of how drone technology can bolster and future-proof logistics in healthcare.

The funded projects are:

  • VPS: Versatile package Provenance System – A project enabling real-time monitoring of crucial healthcare packages between NHS Trusts, couriers, drones, and vans
  • Pioneering Radiopharmaceutical Drone Delivery – A project helping to deliver bigger, critical goods packages over longer distances more safely. Delivered in partnership with the University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust and Siemens Healthcare
  • Welsh NHS Medical Drone Delivery Network – A project focused on delivering savings using autonomous drones embedded into the wider health network. The project will be delivered by Snowdonia Aerospace, SLiNK-TECH, and the Welsh Health Drone Innovation Partnership, led by Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust for NHS Wales with the Welsh Blood Service
  • Dr-UBER: Drone Network for Medical Emergency Delivery in Essex – A project expanding the ride-hailing concept to connect medical institutions such as hospitals, pharmacies, GPs, and medical laboratories. This project has been developed by Airborne Robotics in partnership with Anglia Ruskin University
  • DROnes in Pathology NETworks (DroPNet) - A project looking at how to simplify the use of drones to support the movement of pathology testing between NHS facilities. This project is working alongside the Kent and Medway Pathology Network

These funded projects form part of UKRI’s £300 million Future Flight Challenge. The programme is co-funded by government and industry and is supporting the creation of the aviation ecosystem needed to accelerate the introduction of advanced air mobility (AAM), drones, and electric sub-regional aircraft in the UK. The challenge is delivered by Innovate UK and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Health Minister Andrew Stephenson says: “Technology has huge potential to transform the NHS for patients, but it can also help automate processes behind the scenes too.

“These projects will help future-proof our medical supply chains by using drones to deliver medical products, reducing the chances of supply disruption while saving costs, energy, and resources.

“If successful, they could be rolled out across the NHS to boost resilience and help people live more independent lives, building on the government’s long-term ambitions.”

Future Flight Challenge Deputy Director, Simon Masters, says: “The Future Flight Challenge is committed to leading a revolution in aviation, delivering technology solutions with economic and societal benefits. This partnership between the drone industry and the medical sector highlights the value that drones can bring to our front-line public services. We are excited to be working with these new projects and exploring how new types of vehicles can be applied to NHS supply chain challenges.”

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