Commercial drones are still a rather young industrial sector. Accordingly, many suppliers are active on the market, hoping for quick success. One of them is already well underway: the 2014 founded drone manufacturer, Wingcopter. Numerous awards won by the start-up are a visible sign of its success.
The manufacturer’s showcases at its headquarters in Darmstadt, Germany, are well filled with trophies and goblets. Five weeks ago, Wingcopter was declared the winner of the World Bank drone
competition in the "Emergency Delivery" and "Safety" categories. Exactly one month ago (22MAY20), the drone pioneer was announced as one of the winners of the German Government’s €24
million Covid-19 hackathon.
Last but not least, on 16JUN20, The World Economic Forum named Wingcopter in its list of the 100 most promising Technology Pioneers in 2020 who are shaping industries, “for its contribution in providing hard-to-reach communities with essential life-savings supplies.”
Successful trial in Scotland
Wingcopter’s PR & Communications Manager, Thomas Dreiling, is convinced that the next award or accolade will not be too long in coming. The reason for his confidence is a recently completed trial on the west coast of Scotland, backed by the Highland Division of the Scottish National Health Service (NHS Scotland) and Argyll & Bute, one of 32 Council Areas in Scotland. The trial consisted of two-way flights between a hospital in Oban, located on the Scottish mainland, and a clinic in Craignure on the Isle of Mull, 16 km beeline distance and separated by the Firth of Lorne.
The delivery service was set up to test how isolated communities on the Isle of Mull can be granted access to medical supplies to combat Covid-19 in the fastest and most efficient way.
Ensuring connectivity between remote or hard to reach communities
As COVID-19 testing rapidly gathers pace in the UK, the proposed delivery service will help to ensure that isolated communities have access to tests, delivered in a fast and efficient way. Currently, the majority of medical supplies and specimens are transported between the laboratory at Lorn and Islands Hospital, surrounding general practitioners’ surgeries and other healthcare settings by sea and road – a long and complicated journey. The Wingcopter drone needed 15 minutes from take-off to landing (one way), versus 6 hours by road transport and ferry. “When comparing the runtimes, it is worth noting that the ferries only run twice a day and even less or not at all in bad weather,” Dreiling points out.
Wingcopter provided the drones. Operator of the UAVs was London-based drone specialist, Skyports, that opted for Wingcopter drones because they are agile, fast, and quiet. This creates a wide range of possible applications.
The third player in this trio was Soarizon, a Thales drone management platform that offers tools to maintain compliant and safe drone flying ops. Its parent, Thales, based in Paris, France, is a world-leading industrial provider of onboard and ground systems for the civil aerospace market.
A lot of hurdles still must be set aside
In a statement, Skyport points out that the Covid-19 crisis has highlighted the potential role that UAVs can play in limiting human contact, keeping goods moving to essential services like hospitals, and ensuring remote communities remain connected. Deploying delivery drones to carry out these important functions is easier said than done, emphasizes Skyport. “To achieve permanent commercial operation of drone delivery services at scale, unmanned aircraft need to operate beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) in airspace shared with other users. Restricting delivery flights to separate ‘segregated’ airspace away from other aircraft, the norm today for safety reasons, severely hinders the available routes, frequency, and range of services.” Mastering these specific challenges was the task of the Thales subsidiary in the Oban / Mull trial that lasted two weeks.
Final remarks from broadcaster BBC News: the “groundbreaking trials in Scotland helped improve the quality of medical care on remote Scottish Islands.” For sure, music to the ears of drone manufacturer, Wingcopter.
The NHS will shortly announce whether a test run with the Wingcopter drones over 6 months will commence. "Given the outcome of the recently accomplished trial, we are extremely confident that this will be the case," says Thomas Dreiling. He also sees other applications for Scotland with its rugged landscape and scattered settlements.
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