BT powers a UK-first medical drone trial

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BT is using its network to power a transformational medical delivery trial.

The UK’s largest telco by subscribers has partnered with drone specialists Skyfarer and Medical Logistics UK to conduct the country’s first over-land Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) trial.

BVLOS enables drones to travel longer distances, cut delivery times, and reduce the costs involved in ground transportation over often-congested roads.

The drone trial – completed in the heart of the UK, in complex airspace, and close to urban areas – connects University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire across a 32km route.

A total of 130 flights have been flown without any faults or failures. The drones have flown more than 1,900km in total; the equivalent of flying from London to North Africa. 220km was flown in a single day.

“We have already hit some impressive statistics when it comes to BVLOS flight times and distances, which have all been completed without incident,” says Georgia Hanrahan, Business Manager at Skyfarer. 

During the trial, Skyfarer conducted a carbon emission-saving study, which identified a 99.98 percent reduction in CO2 emissions compared to a diesel van and a 90.5 percent reduction in emissions compared to an electric van.

The trials began in October 2022 and were made possible using BT’s drone connectivity solution. Powered by BT-owned mobile network EE, the solution enables efficient and safe drone mission communications.

Making drone medical deliveries happen is a huge step forward but it’s important to ensure these deliveries are carried out securely. BT says that it prioritises data traffic for command and control of drones and checks the flight route for coverage ahead of it taking place.

BT has been forming commercial drone partnerships through its incubation arm, Etc.

Tom Guy, Managing Director at Etc., said:

“This trial shows drones can do more than just delivering consumer goods, they have the potential to help save lives. Etc. want to be part of that change: using drones for medical deliveries can, in the future, ease the growing pressures on the healthcare system, where there is an ever-expanding need for hospitals to receive and transport time-sensitive medical supplies and samples.

Recent BT Group research on public perception of drones shows that over two-thirds (68%) of the public believe that drones will have a positive impact on their life, citing human safety as the biggest benefit of drones.”

Recent research suggested that drones could increase GDP in the healthcare sector by over £4 billion by 2030 and save the sector around half a billion in costs.

Earlier this year, Etc. entered a £5 million deal with UTM (Unified Traffic Management) technology provider Altitude Angel. The deal aims to support the development of the UK’s drone superhighway, set to be the largest and longest network of its kind in the world.

The connectivity provided by BT for the drone trials is optimised for use at altitude and is compliant with emerging UK regulations and standards.

BT says that collaboration between Etc. and drone partners like Skyfarer is key to enabling real-world testing and ensuring the airspace is safe for critical drone flights such as medical and blue light services. 

“This trial would not have been possible without our consortium of partners. BT Group’s support has enabled a considerable amount of application learning and development, pushing Skyfarer and our consortium closer to a point where turn-key long-range BVLOS drone operations are an everyday occurrence,” added Hanrahan.

“The Skyfarer and BT Group relationship will be the driving force for this revolutionary innovation and its adaption to day-to-day life.”

(Image Credit: BT)

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