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The University of Southampton

Southampton engineers to trial innovative tech in multi-million pound future transport zone

Published: 20 April 2020
Test drone with students
Danail Ivanov and Shadi Hamou test a drone design for carrying pathology samples.

Medical drone deliveries and Mobility as a Service schemes will be trialled by researchers from the University of Southampton as part of a £28m investment in the Solent region.

The real-world tests will be delivered in one of three new future transport zones funded by the Department for Transport to make journeys easier, smarter and greener with new technology.

Professors Tom Cherrett and Jim Scanlan will explore how drones could be used as a new approach to freight distribution, potentially including trials for NHS deliveries across the Solent to the Isle of Wight. Dr James Pritchard will lead research into Mobility as a Service (MaaS) schemes, ultimately leading to an upgrade of the Solent Go multi-operator smartcard to an app-based platform.

The projects will be advanced with the Solent Transport Partnership, comprised of Southampton City Council, Portsmouth City Council, Isle of Wight Council and Hampshire County Council.

“The concept of using drones to deliver medical supplies has been proven in countries such as Rwanda and most recently Ghana where unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are making over 500 flights per day,” Tom explains. “These are helping to save lives by reaching isolated communities quickly and cheaply.

“At the moment we rely very heavily on road vehicles for all our deliveries which has a knock-on impact on air quality and congestion. We will not suddenly be replacing these with drones but for certain product types, it makes sense to investigate how they might be used in combination with traditional logistics fleets to service remote areas.”

MEng Mechanical Engineering and MEng Aeronautics and Astronautics students Tara Banahan, Raimundo Garcia-Figueras Mateos, Shadi Hamou, Danail Ivanov, Pablo Lahoz Powter and Nelson Ng are contributing to the work through final year Group Design Project.

The team are designing, building and testing a UAV for moving pathology samples between certain remote GP surgeries and Southampton General Hospital. The drone, which has a three metre wingspan, can carry up to 2kg of samples and has been created with an automated magnet attachment mechanism.

“At present, around 75 GP surgeries across Southampton are served by 12 dedicated vans collecting around 70,000 samples per month,” Danail explains. “Although samples are taken from patients at around 8am each day, these do not reach the pathology labs until after midday due to the van round configurations.

“Targeting the remote surgeries with drones, particularly locations on the waterside of the city, would significantly speed up the journey time, even out the workload on the pathology labs and have the added advantage of reducing CO2 emissions for vehicle miles travelled.”
Dr James Pritchard and colleagues will be seeking to understand how MaaS schemes can be developed effectively outside major urban centres, providing improved access to transport and reducing the reliance on the private car. Ultimately, the proposal is to roll a MaaS scheme out across the region, under the existing Solent Go brand.

“We are taking a pragmatic approach, accepting that as things stand many people in this area rely on a car for certain journeys,” James says. “However, we are hoping that by incentivising the use of a MaaS app which will display parking options and the costs of driving, as well as making it easy to use other modes of transport, we will encourage people to make more sustainable choices.

“With zero-carbon targets looming and air quality remaining a concern in our city, this funding provides a really exciting opportunity to make a positive difference.”

The Department for Transport’s £90m investment in new future transport zones will also test innovative ways to transport people and goods in the West of England Combined Authority and Derby and Nottingham.

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