Green light for test-carrying drones for NHS

The UK Space Agency has backed a healthcare drone start-up founded by NHS staff, to help in the response to coronavirus.

As part of the NHS Clinical Entrepreneur Programme, drone company Apian aims to establish a network of secure air corridors for electric drones to navigate via satellite-enabled GPS, allowing drones to carry coronavirus samples, test-kits and PPE.

According to the organisation, this will avoid courier call-out waiting times, free-up NHS staff, reduce unnecessary physical contact and minimise the risk of secondary transmission of the virus.

The project will be based at Broomfield Hospital, part of Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust and will be supported by the local Anglia Ruskin University as the academic partner. Befittingly, the hospital stands on a WW1 Royal Flying Corps Airfield.

Apian is one of three new projects using space-enabled technologies and services to support the NHS in the ongoing battle against the virus. The UK Space Agency is also backing DriverNet – a mobile app that will use satellite technology to provide access to more affordable community transport for people wishing to go to and from coronavirus are providers, and those looking to participate in community sport.

By using artificial intelligence to batch patients by their ‘geolocation’ – their mobile phone location triangulated by satellites – and encouraging transport sharing, costs and miles could be cut by half. This could also help reduce the 15 million missed NHS appointments each year.

The government is also backing the delivery of a remote platform for Earth Observation learning. The collaboration, led by the University of Edinburgh, builds on the Earth Blox (Quosient Ltd.) cloud-based software for harnessing planetary-scale satellite-intelligence.

The collaboration will provide distance learning support to students who would have been studying Earth Observation science. Earth Observation students will be our next generation of climate change specialists, weather forecasters and digital pioneers.

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: “The efforts of the UK’s space sector to support our incredible NHS during the Covid-19 pandemic have been truly inspirational. The projects we are backing today are fantastic examples of how our leading space scientists are supporting those directly on the frontline to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.”

The projects – set to receive £1.3 million of funding – have been selected as part of a joint initiative between the UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency.

Please register to comment on this article