Technology

Covid-19 test kit delivery drones receive funding boost

The UK Space Agency and ESA have awarded funding to projects using space-enabled technologies that can support the NHS response to coronavirus.

A scheme using drones to deliver Covid-19 test kits and medical supplies to a Scottish island is among a number of projects to receive extra funding in a bid to help the coronavirus effort.

Skyports, the company behind the drones, started a two-week trial in May with NHS Highland, which serves a group of islands off the west coast of Scotland.

The technology was able to cut delivery times between Oban on the mainland and the Isle of Mull to around 15 minutes, instead of going via road and taking a 45-minute ferry crossing.

An initial £2.6 million was made available by the UK Space Agency and European Space Agency (ESA) to find and support space-enabled technologies and services that can support the NHS response to coronavirus.

Skyports along with two other initiatives have been awarded a share of £1.1 million in funding, while the rest is open to bids until the end of September.

The other winners include Isolation +, which uses space-derived data to identify and support vulnerable people.

Stay, another of the projects to be given funding, is an app being developed to help charities supporting young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

It uses satellite communications and Earth observation satellites to reward young people with ‘badges’ – which will be linked to rewards, discounts or other incentives – for acting positively.

Drones delivery trial
The drone has been carrying supplies from Oban on the mainland to Mull (Skyports/PA)

Science minister Amanda Solloway said: “I’m proud of how our world-leading space sector is stepping up to provide innovative solutions to directly support our amazing NHS, as we continue our national effort to tackling coronavirus.”

“The projects we are backing today show UK ingenuity at its finest, and will make a real difference to how we use this latest innovative technology to deliver critical healthcare now and long into the future.”

Professor Tony Young, the NHS national clinical lead for innovation, added: “The NHS Long Term Plan is bringing new technologies into the NHS to improve patient care and save lives, and as we deal with the greatest challenge in the NHS’s history, innovation in medicine and convenient, faster technology are helping frontline staff to give people world-leading treatment for Covid-19 alongside care for killer conditions including cancer.”

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