Strathclyde researchers are helping to develop a medical delivery drone network

Lead Image Credit: Florian Pircher via Pixabay

By Yousuf Khursheed

Strathclyde researchers are involved in a project which aims to innovate the way medical supplies are transported across Scotland through the use of drones.

The Care & Equity Healthcare Logistics UAS Scotland Project (CAELUS) is developing electric-powered drones to transport blood, organs, and pharmaceuticals between hospitals, laboratories, and distribution centres. The drones would be able to take off and land like helicopters – which are currently a more common way of transporting medical supplies and organs – but have the additional benefit of being fully autonomous.

The project’s main goals are to accelerate the delivery of medical supplies, decrease waiting times for test results, and help ensure equity of care between urban and remote or rural communities. Its proposal was created by Strathclyde Aerospace Engineers Dr Marco Fossati and Dr Massimiliano Vasile, who have each previously conducted research in prominent institutions such as McGill University in Canada and the European Space Research and Technology Centre. 

Vasile, who is the Director of the Strathclyde Aerospace Centre of Excellence in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, describes his excitement about the potential impact the project could have. He said: “We are really happy to see the vision that we proposed has been accepted and will be turned into reality. This is a great example of how the fundamental research we do in aerospace engineering at Strathclyde can be translated into key applications for the improvement of our everyday life.

“In the Aerospace Centre we are in charge of coordinating the work at Strathclyde and in particular we are in charge of the modelling of the drones, their operations and the infrastructure that will support this service. The trials will be important for us to acquire data that will improve our models.”

Live flight trials are set to begin in the second half of 2021 and are due to last for 18 months. If the trials are successful, the drone delivery network could revolutionise the way in which healthcare services – and other services relying on the transport of medical supplies or samples – are delivered in Scotland.

“When you’re working within a certain time frame to get test results out or to get samples which should be tested, a speedy and effective medical supply network could play a vital role,” said Strathclyde Biomedical Science student Avwerosuoghene Eyeredue, who believes the project “reaffirms the reputation our University has in the healthcare sector within the UK.”

The CAELUS Project is being worked on by a consortium of companies and organisations led by AGS Airports Ltd who own and operate Glasgow, Aberdeen and Southampton airports. At Strathclyde, the Aerospace Centre is collaborating with other departments, such as the University’s Civil Engineering department, to develop the drone delivery network. The project could be developed in future to include other electric aerial vehicle networks for delivery of other products and passenger transport.