A consortia working to establish a UAV/Drone Emergency Medical Airbridge between Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly in the UK to supplement the existing National Health Service (NHS) medical supply chain has secured a share of £33m funding from the UK Government to use aviation to solve major global challenges.

DronePrep, which is based at Worcestershire technology accelerator BetaDen in Malvern, is a consortia that has been awarded a share of the initial £7m funds to support project using unmanned aerial vehicles to deliver critical PPE and Covid-19 testing kits to vulnerable rural communities in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

The funding will help deploy drone-based delivery of PPE and COVID-19 testing kits to the Isles of Scilly. The Isles of Scilly are an archipelago off the Cornish coast, in southwest England with a population of roughly 2,100 people. At the end of September, the Isle of Scilly recorded its first COVID-19 positive tests. Prior to that, the location, 28 miles off the cost of Cornwall, had not had any positive results. In Cornwall itself, recorded cases have been climbing since October.

The project unites the two drone delivery companies that have previously deployed in response to the UK COVID-19 challenge - Windracers and Skyports - for the first time. The DronePrep project will be the first UK project to provide a joined-up collaborative solution that uses both long range, large payload drones in addition to flexible Vertical Take off and Landing (VTOL) drones. This will allow for point-to-point and inter-island delivery. 

The same consortia also secured funding from the Department for Transport (DfT) as part of the Future Transport Zone (FTZ) project earlier in the year with the aim of transporting medical supplies and equipment to St Mary’s Hospital, Isle of Wight from Southampton General Hospital via the Solent Airport. That trial, which was fast-tracked in March involved a Windracers ULTRA UAV drone providing an additional transit service for small unit loads as a backup to the existing logistics system. It was the UKs first CAA approved BVLOS service. 

Gareth Whatmore, co-founder of DronePrep, said: “The project this new funding will support is a great illustration of how opening up low-level airspace in a safe and coordinated way can support the health and wellbeing of communities in difficult-to-access areas."

The funding comes from the Government’s Future Flight Challenge, which aims to increase mobility, reduce reliance on road travel and increase UK manufacturing opportunities. This first-wave of funding is being used to support innovative projects harnessing the latest technology to support the fight against COVID-19, as well as other challenges such as climate change.