August 16, 2022
U.K. health-and-beauty retailer Boots completed what it says is the country’s first drone delivery of prescription medicines in a test flight from Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight.
The pharmacy chain partnered with medical-drone startup Apian to complete the flight, which took off from the British Army’s Baker Barracks on Thorney Island near Portsmouth and landed at St. Mary’s Hospital on the Isle of Wight. Once the drone landed, Boots picked up the medicines and delivered them to its pharmacies on the island, where they will be dispensed to patients with prescriptions.
“An island location like the Isle of Wight seemed like a sensible place to start a trial of drones, and their value to the delivery of medicines to more remote locations is very clear,” Boots Chief Information Officer Rich Corbridge said. “In this trial, we will be looking at how much time we can save, as well as how we can incorporate drones into our medicines supply chain to create economic efficiencies too. We want to prepare now for the wider use of this technology in the future.”
Apian, which was founded by a team of doctors in training from the U.K. National Health Service (NHS) and “ex-Googlers,” seeks to use drones to expand the availability of healthcare through the use of drones and works closely with the NHS. In September 2021, the company partnered with the Isle of Wight NHS Trust on a three-month trial to deliver chemotherapy to cancer patients on the island.
The company says it is “drone vendor neutral” and uses a variety of electric drones, from fixed-wing hybrid vertical-take-off-and-landing (eVTOL) units for long-range flights to multi-rotor drones for shorter trips. For this test, it used an eVTOL aircraft developed by Skylift UAV, a British commercial-drone manufacturer.
The U.K.’s Civil Aviation Authority granted Boots permission to fly drones in segregated airspace between the Army installation and St. Mary’s Hospital’s helipad. The company plans to continue flights with drones based at Baker Barracks and flown by professional drone pilots.
“Not only can drones deliver medicine to hospitals, but we are particularly excited about our partnership with Boots, as it demonstrates drones can also help bring care closer to communities,” Appian COO Max Coppin said. “Whilst faster and more reliable than ground transportation, they bring with them additional environmental benefits and offer a more sustainable solution for delivery.”
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