Healthcare drone trial at Broomfield Hospital
- Credit: Apian / Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust
A six-month medical drone trial starts at Broomfield Hospital this month, which if successful could eventually carry Covid-19 samples and blood tests.
The UK Space Agency is funding the trial.
The project is the idea of Apian, a healthcare drone start-up founded by Hammad Jeilani and Christopher Law.
The pair are trainee doctors at Barts Health and members of the Mid and South NHS Foundation Trust’s Innovation Fellowship, which is designed to nurture new healthcare ideas and technology that will help deliver better outcomes for patients.
Christopher Law said: “Covid-19 has highlighted challenges in NHS supply chain logistics.
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“There has never been a better time to create a faster, more dependable and environmentally friendly method of transporting medical supplies.
“We are confident that by setting up a medical drone delivery service, we’ll be able to fly samples to labs more regularly, reliably and quickly, helping improve patient health outcomes.”
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A pilot from Flyby Technology will fly the drone by remote control. Drone pilots will be based on site during the testing at Broomfield Hospital - Broomfield was once a WW1 Royal Flying Corp Airfield.
A purpose-built landing pad is being built on the hospital site in Chelmsford for the flights.
During the first phase, the three-metre wingspan drone will be flown in and around the hospital grounds without carrying any items, eventually extending off-site on pre-agreed flight paths in partnership with the Civil Aviation Authority.
They then hope the drone will fly items like PPE, and could eventually even carry Covid-19 samples and blood tests.
Charlotte Williams, Director of Strategy for Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We are really excited to be involved in this project and see how the use of drones could help deliver real benefits to both patients and staff, with a reliable time-saving service.”
The hybrid-drone lands and takes off vertically, like a helicopter, but also has wings like a plane.
During landing and take-off which last a few seconds it produces noise of a similar volume to a lawnmower.
It is not heard indoors once it reaches 250 feet and is almost silent while cruising.
It will fly at 300 feet (90 metres) above ground level, ensuring that it is separate from manned aircraft which fly above 500 feet (150 metres).
Flights will eventually take place over farmland and empty spaces, avoiding homes and residential areas.
The drone is also designed to fly in harsh weather conditions originally for offshore wind farms, so wind, rain or snow won’t stop it reaching its destination.