Drone lunches could be delivered to students at some of Scotland’s most remote schools if the new trial is successful.
In what is considered the first step of its kind in the UK, Argyle and Bute Council is teaming up with drone specialists Skyports to pilot the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to deliver school meals.
Flying out of Oban Airport, the drones will deliver food prepared at Park Elementary School in the city to Lochnell Elementary School, also in Oban and just 1.5 km (just under one mile) away.
In Argyll and Bute, Scotland’s second largest region with 23 inhabited islands, the use of drones could bring “quite staggering” opportunities to improve services, council leader Robin Currie said.
We’ve already seen how drones can bring essential media to our islands, and now we want all students to have access to healthy school meals.Robin Curry, leader of the Council of Argyll and Bute
He said: “We are committed to connecting remote and insular communities to vital services on the mainland. The possibilities for using UAVs to better serve our communities are staggering.
“Argyle and Bute is the perfect place to test the effectiveness of drone technology.
“We have already seen how drones can deliver essential media to our islands and now we want all students to have access to healthy school meals.”
Mr Curry added that delivering meals to students was “just the start of what’s possible with drones” as the council plans to set up the UK’s first UAV logistics and training center at Oban Airport.
He added: “From maintaining our assets, including roads and bridges, to inspecting offshore wind farms, developing the use of drones will help develop skills, create jobs and attract more investment to the area.”
The council has already received £170,000 from the UK government to fund community renewal work and the additional funding is expected to enable the new hub to be built by March 2025.
Speaking about the work, Scottish Office Minister Ian Stewart said: “Students cannot learn and play on an empty stomach, so being able to deliver nutritious school meals to remote and island schools in a faster, more cost-effective and reliable way is welcome. ”
Mr Stewart added: “The use of drones has huge potential to improve public services for the region’s communities and UK Government funding is driving this innovation as part of our £2bn to upscale across Scotland.”
Alex Brown, head of drone delivery at Skyports, said the drones’ current payload capacity is 3kg, which is “clearly not enough to feed a class of hungry students.”
Despite this, he called the test “an important milestone in the development of this type of supply.”
Mr Brown added: “The lessons learned from this early phase of the project will help pave the way for larger operations.”
He stated: “The Argyle and Bute Council’s willingness to explore how drone services can enhance and enhance the lives of people in local government, combined with Skyports expertise and hundreds of flying hours in the region, makes this an exciting project with endless benefits. ”