BT and Skyfarer complete medical drone delivery trial


The test saw drones travel between the University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust sites in Coventry and Rugby, in preparation for medical deliveries

This week, BT has announced the latest steps in its ambition to help create the world’s largest drone superhighway, with a new trial seeing drones travel successfully between two Midlands hospitals.

The trial, jointly conducted by Skyfarer Ltd and Medical Logistics UK, was initiated in October 2022.

Using connectivity from BT’s network, the trial saw 130 drone flights conducted on the 32km route between the University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust sites. This included travelling in complex airspace, close to urban areas.

Cumulatively, the drones in the trial travelled over 1,900km, including 220km in a single day. Over 30 hours of these flights were beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) – the first time BVLOS drone flight has taken place over-land in the UK.

As well as delivering the obvious benefits of being faster and more direct than comparable car travel between the two locations, drone deliveries will also bring major sustainability benefits; Skyfarer recorded the carbon emissions of a drone delivery as being 99.98% lower than a diesel van and 90.5% lower than an electric van.

“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,” said Georgia Hanrahan, Business Manager, Skyfarer.

“The Skyfarer and BT Group relationship will be the driving force for this revolutionary innovation and its adaption to day-to-day life. With BT Group providing the technology and communications expertise, Skyfarer is able to offer long-range BVLOS capability in return to justify and prove systems.”

BT has been increasing its activity in the drone space for a number of years now, viewing ubiquitous mobile connectivity as a cornerstone for BVLOS drone flight. In fact, last year, a consortium including the operator introduced “Project Skyway”, a plan to build a 165-mile drone corridor spanning Reading, Oxford, Milton Keynes, Cambridge, Coventry, and Rugby.

Since then, BT has expanded its relationship with the consortium’s leader, Unified Traffic Management (UTM) specialist Altitude Angel, by entering into a £5 million deal to help the Altitude Angel scale up its ARROW tower network beyond its initial goals outlined in Project Skyway.

According to BT, the opportunity here is enormous – in healthcare alone, the recent research suggests that commercialised drones could increase the GDP of the sector by £4 billion by 2030.

Perhaps it should comes as no surprise, then, that BT is not the only operator expanding its drone-related activities in recent years, with both Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom among the major telecoms players helping to develop this ecosystem.

How will mobile networks enable commercialised drone flight? Join the experts in discussion at this year’s live Connected North conference

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