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The University of Southampton

Drone trial to help Isle of Wight receive medical supplies faster during COVID19 pandemic

Published: 24 April 2020

The University of Southampton will be taking part in a new trial looking into using drones to transport medical supplies across the Solent to support the response to the COVID19 pandemic.

The trial is the first of its kind and aims to benefit patients on the Isle of Wight by speeding up the delivery of medical supplies.

Funded by the Department for Transport, the trial is part of the Solent Transport Future Transport Zone (FTZ) project. It will use a UAV drone designed and built by the University of Southampton for Windracers, to transport medical supplies to St Marys Hospital from the mainland via the Solent Airport. 

Solent Transport, in partnership with the University of Southampton and Windracers is advancing part of its four-year drone project, which will look to develop an air traffic management system to oversee the safe movement of both manned and unmanned aircraft in shared airspace.  

Various types of unmanned aircraft will be trialled to see how these could improve the movement of medical supplies between the three hospitals in Hampshire – Southampton General Hospital, Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth and St Mary’s Hospital on the Isle of Wight. The project intends to increase efficiency, reduce costs and transportation time of medical supplies between NHS locations.  

The project will involve a Windracers ULTRA UAV drone flying between the Isle of Wight and the mainland and will provide an additional way for supplies to reach the island.

The, drone is a large, double engine, fix winged device with a carrying capacity of up to 100kg in a space around the size of an estate car boot. In the initial operation it will be carrying loads of not more than 40kg and the type of cargo will depend on the needs of the hospital and subject to permissions granted by the Civil Aviation Authority.

Councillor Jacqui Rayment, Southampton Cabinet Member for Place & Transport and Chair of Solent Transport Joint Committee 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.”

Councillor Ian Ward, Cabinet Member for Transport at Isle of Wight, said “I am delighted that the Solent Transport, partners of which we are one, have worked together DfT and the University, at such speed to make this something that can support Island, its community and most importantly the NHS in these difficult times”.

Tom Cherrett, Professor of Logistics and Transport Management at the University of Southampton said “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. Originally the trials were not due to start until next year, but we have brought these forward, recognising that the Windracers ULTRA platform could provide an additional service to the NHS on the Isle of Wight should they need it as part of their Covid-19 response.”

Windracers said “We are very pleased that we are able to contribute to helping the NHS fight Covid-19.   We have been working with the University of Southampton for over three years to design and build the Windracers ULTRA UAV.  Our aim has always been to provide a fast, cost effective service to transport humanitarian aid, medical supplies or other critical supplies over long distances, over land or water or hostile terrain or to deliver where other vehicles or aircraft are unable to.”

Maggie Oldham, Chief Executive at Isle of Wight NHS Trust, said “Providing NHS services on an island comes with a number of challenges, so it is fantastic to see the progress being made to support health care on the Isle of Wight through the use of new and innovative technology.

“This work has the potential to significantly improve services for our local community by reducing waiting times for test results and speeding up the transfer of important, possibly life-saving medication.”


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