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Future flight challenge winners announced

£500,000 has been invested across five innovative projects in the health sector using drones for delivery of medicines and medical supplies. 

Female engineer working on a drone in a laboratory.

Credit: gorodenkoff, iStock, Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

Innovate UK, in partnership with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has announced the latest winners of its future flight challenge.

The programme uses drones to help build resilience in UK medical supply chains and help connect patients with healthcare services more quickly.

Future-proof healthcare logistics

With domestic and international medical goods supply chains dependent on each other, supply disruption has also become more common.

To prevent domestic disruption, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is championing sectoral innovation to strengthen and build long-term resilience.

Five UK-based project winners will share £500,000 to build a deeper understanding of how drones could strengthen and future-proof healthcare logistics.

The funded projects

VPS: Versatile package Provenance System

This project enables real-time monitoring of crucial healthcare packages between NHS Trusts, couriers, drones and vans.

Pioneering Radiopharmaceutical Drone Delivery

This project helps to deliver bigger, critical goods packages over longer distances more safely.

It is delivered in partnership with the University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust and Siemens Healthcare.

Welsh NHS Medical Drone Delivery Network

This project is focused on delivering savings using autonomous drones embedded into the wider health network.

It will be delivered by Snowdonia Aerospace LLP, SLiNK-TECH Ltd and the Welsh Health Drone Innovation Partnership, led by Welsh Ambulance Service Trust  for the Welsh NHS with the Welsh Blood Service.

Dr-UBER: Drone Network for Medical Emergency Delivery in Essex

This project expands the ‘ride-hailing’ idea 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)

This project looks 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.

Accelerating advanced air mobility

These funded projects form part of UKRI’s £300 million future flight challenge programme.

The programme is co-funded by government and industry, and supports the creation of the aviation ecosystem needed to accelerate the introduction of advanced air mobility, drones and electric sub-regional aircraft in the UK.

The challenge is delivered by Innovate UK and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Future proof medical supply chains

Health Minister Andrew Stephenson yesterday said:

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.

Revolution in aviation

Future Flight Challenge Deputy Director, Simon Masters, yesterday said:

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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