Scottish island pilots drone deliveries of medical supplies
In a field overlooking the Lorn and Islands Hospital in the town of Oban on Scotland's remote west coast, an anxious Duncan Walker trained his eyes above a nearby hill.
Walker, chief executive of drone delivery company Skyports, is working with Britain's National Health Service (NHS) to trial whether medical supplies like COVID-19 tests and protective equipment can be flown from the hospital to the Isle of Mull, around 10 miles (16 kilometres) away.
"We've been working on the project for nearly 18 months now, building up the technology, making sure it's all working and testing. But as COVID came along, the need for the solution really accelerated," Walker said.
The trial is a milestone for unmanned aviation in the UK, as under current regulations drones must always be flown within visual line of sight of the remote pilot.
Walker and his drone team are feeding data and reports collected from the flights to the Civil Aviation Authority after each day of flying.
If successful, the service will cut delivery times from up to six hours, by ground transport and ferry, to around 15 minutes.
It is hoped that the project will open the way for urgent medicine to be delivered to islands and remote locations across the UK.