Coventry start-up set for autonomous drone delivery trial

The company’s prototype drone is capable of carrying up to 5kg of supplies, that includes plasma, blood, and organs, as far as 80km.

Pictured from left: Luke Pulford, Matthew Lawrence, Peter Butlin and Elliot Parnham.

A Coventry start-up is set to begin trials to test the capability of drones delivering urgent medical supplies across the region.

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

But travel restrictions due to the global coronavirus pandemic has seen the company look closer to home and work with, among others, the NHS on the use of autonomous aircraft to reduce the time it takes to move critical medical supplies across the country urgently.

Their full-scale prototype drone is capable of carrying up to 5kg of supplies, that includes plasma, blood, and organs, that could be delivered to up to 80km away much faster than by road.

The company, which is based at the Coventry University Enterprise Hub, has been supported by Business Ready, a programme that delivers support to expanding businesses.

Skyfarer also received a £50,000 grant from towards its work, which has meant the company can create one full-time and two part-time jobs.

Elliot, the founder, explained: “My initial plan for the business was to manufacture drones based on the work I had undertaken at Coventry University.

“But after meeting with Business Ready, I pivoted away from design and manufacture as delivery drone platforms are being developed internationally.

“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.

“In my view, delivering products direct to people’s doors is still way off because of the limited proven reliability of safety systems, but we can really see the potential for this in increasing efficiency for urgent delivery.”

The company would not specify the location of their trials, other than to say it would be in Warwickshire.

Elliot encouraged others in the same position as him to reach out to Business Ready for business support.

Matthew Lawrence, from Business Ready, said he was “very pleased” to support Skyfarer to identify a potential market as well as funding opportunities.

Cllr Peter Butlin, Deputy Leader of Warwickshire County Council, called the company “a really exciting venture, using high tech innovation to create jobs that are sustainable.”