The CAELUS (Care & Equity – Healthcare Logistics UAS Scotland) project, the UK’s first medical distribution network using drones, has launched its next phase having secured £10.1 million in funding from the Future Flight Challenge at UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) in August 2022.
To celebrate, consortium members, stakeholders and politicians gathered at Glasgow Airport for the official launch and to hear more details of the project timelines and work so far.
Scottish Government Public Health Minister Maree Todd provided the keynote speech at the event which had a number of exhibitions on show from partners.
CAELUS, led by AGS Airports in partnership with NHS Scotland, brings together 16 partners that are working to deliver what will be the first national drone network that can transport essential medicines, bloods and other medical supplies throughout Scotland including to remote communities.
Since securing £1.5 million in January 2020, the CAELUS consortium has designed drone landing stations for NHS sites across Scotland and developed a virtual model (digital twin) of the proposed delivery network which connects hospitals, pathology laboratories, distribution centers and GP surgeries across Scotland.
NHS Scotland has said it will bring its ‘Once for Scotland’ approach to the project, the second phase of which will involve live flight trials and removing remaining barriers to safely using drones at scale within Scotland’s airspace.
“We were delighted when we heard we were receiving the £10.1m funding from UKRI to move onto the next phase of the project,” said Fiona Smith, AGS Airports Group Head of Aerodrome Strategy and CAELUS Project Director. “The CAELUS project is set to revolutionize the way in which healthcare services are delivered in Scotland. A drone network can ensure critical medical supplies can be delivered more efficiently, it can reduce waiting times for test results and, more importantly, it can provide equity of care between urban and remote rural communities.
“As well as being able to undertake live flights we can begin to deploy the physical infrastructure needed to support the drones across Scotland. This will involve building prototype landing bases as well as digital and communication infrastructure. We will also work with local communities to ensure they understand why and how the drones will be used.”
Live flight trials will be operated by CAELUS consortium member Skyports. The UK-based drone services provider is an experienced operator of medical and dangerous goods cargo flights. The company was instrumental to early trial flights with NHS Scotland in 2020 and 2021, flying over 14,000km in the region to date.
“We are incredibly excited to be the lead board for this high-end innovative project,” said NHS Grampian’s Program Lead for Innovation, Hazel Dempsey. “Our aim, from an NHS perspective, is to test the use of drone technology in urban, remote, rural and island landscapes. We want to test if using drones will improve important aspects of our logistics service, for example, to test the transportation of laboratory samples, blood products, chemotherapy, and medicine delivery. Ultimately, we want to explore if drone technology can speed up diagnosis and treatment of medical problems.
“This has the potential to improve services for those whose care is dependent on rail, ferry or airline timetables and help keep people at home where they can be supported by families and loved ones.
“This project intends to position the United Kingdom and NHS Scotland as a leader in the third revolution in the aviation industry.”
David Lowe, National Clinical Director for Innovation, added: “This national, exciting ‘next stage’ program of work builds on the success of CAELUS 1 launch which focused on the West of Scotland.”
The CAELUS consortium comprises:
- AGS Airports Limited
- ANRA Technologies UK
- Cellnex UK
- Commonplace Digital
- Connected Places Catapult
- DGP Intelsius
- NHS Scotland
- Plane Finder
- The Drone Office
- Trax International
- University of Strathclyde