Drones have become a staple in today’s society. With more than 770,000 drones already being registered with the FAA, it’s no surprise that there are a growing number of uses for drone technology. From agriculture to real estate, companies and organizations have found new and improved ways to use drones. And the latest use for drones in the UK is for medical deliveries.
According to a new report by Nesta, the speed and reliability drones could offer when it comes to delivering medical supplies between the UK’s capital and hospitals could significantly cut costs and offer better care services to patients. Unfortunately, the lack of air traffic control systems to allow drones to safely make deliveries is a big barrier standing in the way of making this happen.
The Flying High report consisted of data collected by a project team and experts from the NHS and emergency services. In collaboration with five UK city-regions, researchers studied how drones could be utilized in events such as car accidents and fires.
In London alone, there are 34 hospitals relatively close to each other, meaning drone deliveries could save notable time by avoiding crowded roads. This would allow drones to deliver blood products and light equipment to emergency responders as well as taking samples to the hospitals for tests to be done, providing quicker results. There have been developments in healthcare technology over the years, like ultrasound therapy, which has been used in medical care since the 1940s. But drones would be introducing a whole new level of technology.
The researchers looked at five use-cases. These included included a drone delivery network that would help carry medical supplies between NHS facilities in London, a medical delivery across the Solent, which could link otherwise inaccessible areas, fire response aid in Bradford, traffic accident response use in the West Midlands, and support for construction work for urban projects in Preston.
Professor Tony Young, National Clinical Lead for Innovation at NHS England explained, “We want to harness the potential of technology in the NHS to deliver improved patient care, and the use of drones offers exciting possibilities. As the NHS develops its long-term plan it will be looking at the use of technology now and into the future to ensure it can take advantage of all the benefits innovations bring.”
Despite the positive outcomes of the research, there are still barriers that must be overcome before any sort of drone delivery system could be put in place. While cities have expressed excitement about the possibilities drones can offer, there would need to be better ways to manage shared airspace to ensure safe delivery. This includes figuring out how drone deliveries would work in areas with heavy air traffic, like helicopters, on a regular basis. Overall, there would simply need to be more regulations that change the current way airspace is managed.
Along with regulation challenges, there are also challenges to overcome with drone technology. Researchers expressed concerns with the ability to control drones beyond the line of sight as well as having more precision flight control and autonomy.
But the benefits of implementing medical drone deliveries could be immense. According to the report, drones could offer a $55 billion increase to the UK’s GDP before 2030 and an annual cost saving of about $21 billion. And with there needing to be about 52,000 more primary care physicians by 2025 to meet increasing healthcare needs, drones could provide significant aid in the medical field.
Overall, the UK policies regarding drones are lagging behind other countries, according to the report, and researchers hope that will soon change.