Coronavirus: Solent Transport drone trials to transport medical supplies between Portsmouth, Southampton and Isle of Wight to start next week
A DRONE project to transport medical supplies across the Solent has been fast-tracked by the government to start next week in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Solent Transport, a partnership of four councils including Portsmouth City Council, will carry out the first UK trials using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to transport vital medical equipment between Queen Alexandra Hospital in Cosham, Southampton General Hospital and the Isle of Wight's St Mary's Hospital.
Last month the partnership was awarded £28m by the Department for Transport for the trials as part of the Solent Transport Future Transport Zone (FTZ) project, which was due to start next year
In the government’s daily coronavirus briefing yesterday, transport secretary Grant Shapps announced the project would be fast-tracked in order to provide more support during the Covid-19 outbreak.
Mr Shapps said: ‘I have given the green light to trials of drones to deliver supplies. Earlier this year we awarded £28m to Southampton and Portsmouth to deliver a future transport zone.
‘As part of that initiative, £8m was earmarked for testing drones and how they might be used to deliver goods in the years and decades ahead. Of course now we have an urgent need so we are making use of that testing programme as part of our response to Covid-19.
‘As a result I fast-tracked trials to begin next week.’
The trial will use a UAV drone that can carry 100kg for up to 1,000km, which has been built by the University of Southampton for Windracers.
Councillor Jacqui Rayment, chair of Solent Transport Joint Committee and Southampton cabinet member for place and transport, 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.’
In the initial operation it will be carrying loads of no more than 40kg; the type of cargo will depend on hospital needs and subject to permissions granted by the Civil Aviation Authority.
Subject to CAA approval, the drones will fly a set route between Lee-on-the-Solent and Binstead, in the north east of the Isle of Wight.
Initial plans are for four journeys a day, but the set up allows for a maximum of 10 flights per day.
Tom Cherrett, Professor of Logistics and Transport Management at the University of Southampton, added: ‘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.
‘We are very pleased that we are able to contribute to helping the NHS fight Covid-19.’
Solent Transport is made up Southampton City Council, Portsmouth City Council, Isle of Wight Council, and Hampshire County Council.