Start-up set to begin drone tests for delivery of urgent medical supplies

Luke Pulford, Matthew Lawrence, Peter Butlin, Elliot Parnham

A start-up Coventry business is set to begin trials in Warwickshire to test the capability of drones delivering urgent medical supplies after receiving support.

Skyfarer, which was established by Elliot Parnham in 2019 after studying aerospace engineering at university, was initially planning to be part of a project in Africa that would see supplies delivered to hard-to-reach areas via drone technology.

But travel restrictions due to the Coronavirus pandemic has seen the company look closer to home and is working with, among others, the NHS on the possibility of using autonomous aircraft to reduce the time it takes to move medical critical supplies to where they are needed urgently.

That includes plasma, blood, organs and samples that could be delivered to locations much more quickly than by road.

Skyfarer, which is based at the Coventry University Enterprise Hub, has been supported by Business Ready, a programme that delivers support to expanding businesses which is managed by the business support team at the University of Warwick Science Park, and is funded by the European Regional Development Fund and Warwickshire County Council as part of the CW Business: Start, Grow & Scale Programme.

The company has received a £50,000 grant from Innovate UK – which has led to the creation of one full-time and two part-time jobs – and the firm is also in the process of applying for further funding.

The project is also supported by Altitude Angel, the unmanned traffic management system provider; FlyPulse, a Swedish flight management system specialist, and Coventry University’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Automotive Research (CCAAR).

Parnham said: “My initial plan for the business was to manufacture drones based on the work I had undertaken at Coventry University and a project I had completed that was part of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers UAS challenge.

“But after meeting with Business Ready, I pivoted away from design and manufacture as delivery drone platforms are being developed internationally. It became clear that there is a market for a business that brings together all of the systems, all of the technology and the planning required to make the use of drones commercially viable.

“That was an important step to take and the Business Ready support was a big part in that.

“The technology is still quite expensive and, until that changes, it will only be viable for high-value items that need to be delivered as quickly as possible – that is why there is such strong potential with urgent medical supplies. It could also lead to the delivery of pharmaceuticals and PPE which, again, has been highlighted as so important during the current crisis.

“In my view, delivering products direct to people’s doors is still way off because of the limited proven reliability of safety systems required when operating aircraft in dense urban and sub-urban environments, but we can really see the potential for this kind of system in increasing efficiency for urgent delivery.

“We can’t be any more specific about the location of our trials in Warwickshire, but they are extremely important in the development of the business and could be a lifesaver for people in the future.”

He added: “The grant funding has been crucial in getting to this stage and Business Ready have helped me to apply for further support and have also worked with me on making the business investment ready by creating a roadmap for growth.

“I’d urge anyone at this stage of their business to get in touch with them.”

Matthew Lawrence, a Business Ready adviser, said: “This is an exciting period for Skyfarer as trials begin.

“We are very pleased to have been able to support the company in its journey so far in helping to identify a potential market as well as funding available. Elliot has worked with one of our mentors, Luke Pulford, and it has been great to see how that relationship has supported the development of the business to this stage.”


Click here to sign up to receive our new South West business news...