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Going remote: can drones improve the lives of those living in rural communities?

16 Jun 2021
Daniel Jiménez Muñozand

Daniel Jiménez Muñoz

Business Director, Vodafone Spain
Anne Sheehan

Anne Sheehan

Business Director, Vodafone UK

Argyll & Bute stretches over 2,500 sq m along the west coast of Scotland and has a population of 86,000 people, some of whom live in the most remote communities in the UK.

As such, medical supplies can currently take up to 36 hours to reach their destination. A long time, when you consider that in an emergency, every second counts.

Thanks to technology we’ve been able to get the delivery time down to as little as 15 minutes – a dramatic reduction that could save lives.

Using drones to deliver coronavirus supplies

In a UK first, drones are being used to transport key medical supplies between NHS hospitals and facilities in the Scottish Highlands.

Running on our 4G network, the drone flights can cover up to 40 miles (64km) at a time, with each drone capable of carrying up to 3kg of supplies, such as medicine, COVID-19 testing samples and kits, and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Operated by drone specialists Skyports from an operations centre in Oban, flights are taking place along predetermined routes and are part of a three-month trial. They are the first in the UK to receive approval from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to carry diagnostic specimens, following a successful test flight which took place last year.

Both scheduled and on-demand flights will service Lorn & Islands Hospital in Oban; Mid-Argyll Community Hospital in Lochgilphead; Easdale Medical Practice in Clachan Seil; and the Mull & Iona Community Hospital in Craignur.

Skyports Drone - Vodafone UK

This pilot will not only reduce the amount of time it takes to get much-needed materials from A to B in this isolated part of Scotland, it can dramatically reduce cost too.

And the benefits go beyond these four hospitals; drones could help get medical supplies to those who need it most and support in emergencies such as a natural disaster by delivering medical supplies, food, clothing and any other items needed.

In those situations, it can sometimes take a few days to get people what they need as the area becomes inaccessible.

It’s in these hard to reach places where drones can really make a difference.

Emergency search and rescue

In Spain, we’ve been experimenting with Red Cross and Capgemini Engineering to use unmanned aerial vehicles in search and rescue missions too.

Similar to our work with Malaga University, emergency teams have been carrying out rescue drills to see how 5G can support these complex operations.

Using a remote-controlled drone, connected by this next generation mobile connectivity, the team can search 300-500 metres ahead and receive information in real-time via high-res imagery, thermal images, commands and alerts. They can then generate a map of the areas already covered and ultimately cut search time – a great result when every second counts.

The project was brought about as a result of the alarmingly high number of elderly people getting lost in rural and semi-rural areas.

Improving surveillance in rural areas

We’ve also been running another pilot in Spain with The Civil Guard military police force focused on improving surveillance in rural, difficult to get to locations with remote-controlled drones.

Piloto 5G Vodafone - Guardia Civil - AERTEC
CREDIT: 5G Vodafone Pilot – Civil Guard - AERTEC

Using Aertec Solutions’ unmanned aerial Tarsis system coupled with a 5G connected smartphone, we tested communication, as well as flight command management.

Thanks to our 5G network’s bandwidth capabilities and low latency, high-quality images and control signals were shared in real-time, allowing specialist pilots to operate the drone from a control-centre off-site.

Not only can officers now have visibility of new, remote areas, but their safety has been improved too, as they can inspect anything suspicious from a much safer distance.

Improving the safety of first responders, is one of many great benefits brought about by 5G technology and supports our wider ambition to deliver technology that positively impacts people’s lives for the better.

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