A new drone service will reduce delivery times for urgent medical supplies to a hospital on the Isle of Wight off the south coast of England.
The fixed-wing, twin-engined UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) has a range of 1 000km) and can carry of up to 100kg in a hold the size of an estate car boot.
The aircraft can make the trip across the Solent, the water separating the island of 142 000 people from the mainland in 10 minutes, far faster than a ferry crossing of about 30 minutes and cheaper than a normal flight.
“I think of it as a sort of Land Rover of the sky, a similar sort of niche in that it’s robust, tough, easy to repair and reliable,” said Jim Scanlan, Professor of Aerospace Design at the University of Southampton, who developed the drone.
The first delivery was a consignment of pathology sample cases flown from Lee-on-Solent airport to Binstead aerodrome on the Isle of Wight at the weekend. The drone is now on standby to fly up to 10 sorties daily should urgent supplies be needed.
The trial is part of a government project to develop a transport system allowing manned and unmanned aircraft to operate in the same airspace.
Scanlan says remote or island communities, reliant on slow boat travel or expensive manned aircraft for supplies, could benefit from this technology.
“A cheap platform such as this can reliably deliver and can fly at night, can fly in fog and in poor weather,” Scanlan added.
The UAV was developed at the University of Southampton, funded by start-up Windracers, to distribute humanitarian aid. It has special permission to fly in Britain to assist with government’s COVID-19 response.
Solent Transport, a public organisation tasked with investigating travel and deliveries, says the drone is not designed to replace existing ferries.
“There’s a good logistics system in place by the National Health Service using ferries,” said Conrad Haigh, Solent Transport Manager.
“We’re trying to provide a supplementary service, particularly now when there’s a reduction in passenger and ferry services.”