Drone innovators win half a million to improve UK medical supply chain


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

Innovate UK, in partnership with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), has announced the latest group of projects to receive funding from the UKRI Future Flight Challenge. The programme encourages the innovative use of drones to help build resilience in UK medical supply chains and help connect patients with healthcare services more quickly.

Domestic and international medical goods supply chains are dependent on each other, meaning the supply of medical goods in the UK can be disrupted by events around the world. To make domestic supply more reliable, UKRI is championing cross-sector innovation to strengthen and build long-term resilience. 

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

The funded projects are:

• VPS: Versatile package Provenance System: A project enabling real-time monitoring of crucial healthcare packages between NHS Trusts, couriers, drones and vans. 

• Pioneering Radiopharmaceutical Drone Delivery: A project helping to deliver bigger, critical goods packages over longer distances more safely. Delivered in partnership with the University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust and Siemens Healthcare.

• Welsh NHS Medical Drone Delivery Network: A project focused on delivering savings using autonomous drones embedded into the wider health network. The project will be delivered by Snowdonia Aerospace, SLiNK-TECH, and the Welsh Health Drone Innovation Partnership, led by Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust for NHS Wales with the Welsh Blood Service.

• Dr-UBER: Drone Network for Medical Emergency Delivery in Essex: A project expanding the ride-hailing concept 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): A project looking 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.


Future Flight Challenge

These funded projects form part of UKRI’s £300 million Future Flight Challenge. The programme is co-funded by government and industry and is supporting the creation of the aviation ecosystem needed to accelerate the introduction of advanced air mobility (AAM), drones, and electric sub-regional aircraft in the UK. The challenge is delivered by Innovate UK and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Health Minister Andrew Stephenson, says: “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.”

Future Flight Challenge Deputy Director, Simon Masters, says: “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 frontline 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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