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UK: Pioneering COVID-19 testkit drone delivery trial to be held at Montrose Port

By Chris Stonor

A drone delivery trial transporting medical supplies including Covid-19 test kits to vessels at sea, will take place at Montrose Port this week, reports

Project MediDrone, which employs drones or unmanned remotely operated aerial vehicles (UAVs), is funded by a UK Government innovation grant. The trial involves the craft flying from the quayside at Montrose and landing on a vessel offshore.

If successful, the tests may open up the opportunity for Covid-19 tests and other medical supplies to be delivered to and from vessels without them needing to dock or be boarded by harbour pilots, further reducing any risk of infection being brought back to shore and into the community.

Montrose Port

The trial is being overseen by London-based technology company, Neuron Innovations, in partnership with ‘drone-in-a-box’ provider Herotech8 and specialist insurance and risk management company, Flock. Weather permitting, the flight is to take place at midday this Thursday (April 29th, 2021).

Niall Greenwood, CEO at Neuron, said, “Montrose was chosen for its location, facilities, and the management team’s forward-thinking approach. We are delighted to be leading these Drone trials, to enable the delivery of medical supplies from shore to ship.”

He continued, “Drones offer a much safer, faster, and more cost-effective method of delivery compared with more traditional approaches. By connecting the drone to Neuron’s surveillance network we have made a significant step to enabling these kinds of applications on a routine basis.”

Adding, “The data from our networks provide the drone pilot with the ability to remotely observe nearby aircraft so that they can keep the craft safely separated from them.”

Herotech8’s ‘drone-in-a-box’ solution comprises an automated recharging station and communication relay that allows the drone to be operated remotely and on-demand by an operator located at a Cranfield University office, 450 miles away. The craft remotely takes off and lands and follows pre-programmed waypoints during its flight. The operator  is there to monitor the drone during the flight to ensure public safety as well as other airspace users.

Hamish Murray, Projects Team Leader at Montrose Port Authority, commented, “Securing this trial is a unique opportunity for Montrose and adds to the growing list of innovative projects going on within the port and the broader local community. We already work closely with the team behind the proposed Montrose Drone Port and as well as using our quayside for the trials, our pilot boat and other port personnel will also be heavily involved.”

He continued, “With our growing reputation within the offshore wind industry, as well as traditional oil and gas and general cargo, we can see drones potentially becoming a common sight in the skies above the port and at sea, and I’m glad that we are able to play such a pivotal role in helping shape the future of this exciting technology.”

Sam Golden at Flock, added, “I’m grateful to the UK government for supporting this trial and to Neuron for bringing together best in class companies to deliver on it. Great things can happen when companies are given the space to collaborate.”

The trial is made possible by a grant from UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI’s) Future Flight Challenge. The consortium’s aim is to demonstrate how the safety and efficiency of ports can be improved using drones to reduce the number of trips to vessels by pilot boats which can take hours to complete and are made dangerous by the crew having to climb a rope ladder from one vessel to another.

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