Angus is to host the first UK trials of shore-to-ship medical supply drone deliveries which could see Covid-19 test kits flown offshore.
Montrose Port will this week stage the inaugural trials in the Project MediDrone initiative.
If successful, it could see drones become a common sight at ports and over the sea.
They could 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.
Experts say the the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) could cut costs and improve safety and efficiency.
The medical use would further reduce risk of infection being brought back to shore and into the community.
The trials are being coordinated by London-based technology firm Neuron Innovations Ltd in partnership with ‘drone-in-a-box’ provider Herotech8 and specialist insurance and risk management company, Flock.
Innovation grant funded
The scheme has been funded by a UK Government innovation grant.
Montrose is already at the centre of ambitious proposals for the UK’s first drone port.
It is linked to the £500 million Zero Four business development which could bring 2,000 new jobs to Angus.
Neuron CEO Niall Greenwood said the location, facilities and forward-thinking approach made Montrose ideal for the trials.
“Drones offer a much safer, faster, and more cost-effective method of delivery compared with more traditional approaches,” he said.
“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.
“The data from our networks provide the drone pilot with the ability to remotely observe nearby aircraft so that they can keep the drone safely separated from them.”
Remarkable advances in technology could see the Montrose drones flown by pilots hundreds of miles away.
Herotech8’s ‘drone-in-a-box’ solution comprises an automated recharging station and communication relay.
It allows the drone to be operated remotely and on-demand by a pilot situated at offices at Bedford’s Cranfield University – 450 miles from Angus.
The drone automatically takes off and lands and follows pre-programmed waypoints during its flight.
The pilot is there to monitor the drone during flight to ensure the safety of the public and other airspace users.
Hamish Murray, projects team leader at Montrose Port Authority, said: “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.
“As well as using our quayside for the trials, our pilot boat and other port personnel will also be heavily involved.
“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.”
Sam Golden of Flock added: “This trial paves the way for widespread use of drones for ship-to-shore delivery.
“We are showing how drones can improve safety, cut costs and increase efficiency in ports globally.”
The trial secured 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.
Those can take hours to complete and are made dangerous by the crew having to climb a rope ladder from one vessel to another.