Covid-19 test kits and personal protective equipment could soon be delivered by medical drones after the idea received backing from the UK Space Agency.
Apian, which was founded by NHS staff as part of the NHS Clinical Entrepreneur Programme, aims to establish a network of secure air corridors for electric drones to navigate via satellite-enabled GPS.
Using the drones to help in the coronavirus response will avoid courier call-out waiting times, free up NHS staff, reduce unnecessary physical contact and minimise the risk of secondary transmission of the virus.
The project will be based at Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford, part of Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust, and will be supported by the local Anglia Ruskin University as the academic partner.
The drones, which can carry a maximum weight of 2kg and fly about 60 miles, will fly at 300ft (90m) above ground level and are designed to fly in harsh weather.
They are hybrid drones, which means they have the rotors of a typical drone and the wings of a plane, making them very good at flying long distances.
The drones will initially be flying between Broomfield Hospital, Basildon Hospital and the Pathology First Laboratory in Basildon.
Christopher Law, from Apian, said: ‘We are confident that by setting up a medical drone delivery service, we’ll be able to fly samples to labs more regularly, reliably and quickly, improving patient health outcomes.’
The company will scale the work from its drone trials by creating the UK’s NHS Air Grid (NAG), a network of secure air corridors designed to safely, rapidly and effectively enable drone delivery across the NHS.
It is working closely with the Civil Aviation Authority, UK Space Agency and the emergency services to create these corridors.
The healthcare drone company is one of three new projects backed by The UK Space Agency and will share £1.3 million in funding.
Science minister Amanda Solloway added: ‘The efforts of the UK’s space sector to support our incredible NHS during the Covid-19 pandemic have been truly inspirational.
‘The projects we are backing today are fantastic examples of how our leading space scientists are supporting those directly on the front line to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.’
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