Trikala – Greece

Drone tested in Trikala
Drone delivering medicines
Drone flying in Trikala
Drone flying in Trikala
Drone flying in Trikala
Drone connecting pharmacies
Drone connecting pharmacies in Trikala
Pharmacists benefitting from the drone delivery
Drone demonstration site in Trikala
The HARMONY team involved in the drone demonstration

Trikala is a city in northwestern Thessaly, Greece, and the capital of the Trikala regional unit. The railway Palaiofarsalos–Kalambaka crosses the region as part of the TEN-T Corridor Orient/East – Med. One main concern is to reduce traffic congestion within the city centre of the city by providing better public connection to the surrounding and rural areas. The drone demonstration run from September to November 2021. Trikala envisages releasing their SUMP based on the HARMONY results.

HARMONY in Trikala

The pilot in Trikala is focusing on urban air mobility systems and services. It consists of a drone delivery service for medicines from the city centre to the pharmacies in the surrounding rural areas, serving primarily the urgent needs of elderly and other vulnerable social groups with limited access to mobility services.

HARMONY will:

  • Engage stakeholders and citizens to investigate their requirements in terms of urban, suburban and rural mobility;
  • Demonstrate drones for transferring medicines from the city centre to the surrounding areas and villages;
  • Collect data to explore the impact of new mobility technologies and services;
  • Transfer results from the HARMONY Model Suite application to assist the authority to deliver the Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (SUMP).

This pilot will improve the everyday life of citizens, decrease the delivery time (since no traffic congestion is confronted in the third dimension), reduce operational costs and operate in a safer way promoting social distancing if needed, like in the context of the COVID-19 lockdowns. Not to mention the technological benefits of testing and deploying new urban air mobility technologies.

In the short term, HARMONY will collect the opinions, requirements and experiences of citizens and involved actors to co-create the service and evaluate it. In the longer term, HARMONY’s pilot in Trikala could turn into a feasibly permanent service to be implemented by the city. In addition, HARMONY will contribute to developing an urban air mobility ecosystem that enables new jobs, tests and investments in other local ecosystems in Greece and worldwide.

Setting up the drone demonstration

In 2020, the local HARMONY partner, e-Trikala, along with the scientific support of the University of the Aegean and University College London (UCL), started the setup of the demonstration. The first step was to initiate a dialogue with the local stakeholders and the community to discuss the barriers and opportunities of this concept.

The local Association of Pharmacists collaborated closely with the HARMONY team raising several challenges – some of them regulatory- about the delivery of medicines. For example, the pharmacists have to make sure that the medicines are delivered to the person who has a prescription and that the right medicines are delivered to the right person. In addition, they have to guarantee that the medicines are not affected by weather conditions during the delivery. Given these barriers and constraints, the initial concept changed and through this co-creation process we ended up with a revised concept: in urgent situations, when a pharmacy in a village runs out of a medicine, the drone would pick it up from the warehouse and deliver it to the pharmacy in the villages; not directly to the person in need.

Although it may seem that the value of the concept has been decreased, there is still a lot of value in this concept. Under this concept, there is no need for the pharmacist or the delivery company to conduct a trip just to deliver a medicine; there is no need for the people in need to conduct a return trip to the city, or to ask their family members or friends to pick up the medicines for them. In addition, the costs and the environmental footprint are decreased as the trip that would be conducted by a car or a van, it is now conducted by an electric drone.

At the same time, HARMONY also collaborated closely with the Hellenic Aviation Authority to secure approval for the flight paths (the routes that the drone will follow) to make sure that the drones will not put in danger the citizens. The approval, support, and guidance of the Hellenic Aviation Authority was vital for the initiation of the demonstration.

The launch of the drones demonstration

During the European Mobility Week 2021, on the 21st of September 2021, an event was organized to inaugurate the demonstration. Several local and national authorities participated in the event and discussed about the barriers and opportunities. The event closed with the “First flight” of the drone. The drone transferred medicines from Trikala to the pharmacy in Leptokaria village covering a distance of 2.4 km (1.2 km each way).

The first flight was carried out in the presence of the Mayor of Trikala, the executives of the Civil Aviation Service, the Association of Pharmacists of Trikala, the drone operator Altus S.A., the sponsor of the drone’s insurance coverage Anytime Interamerican, the company HAM SYSTEMS that sponsored the temperature and humidity sensors in the drone’s container, and e-Trikala. The project coordinator from University College London, as well as representatives from the HARMONY partners University of the Aegean and MobyX were also present.

Stakeholder engagement

Apart from the drone demonstration, other key stakeholder engagement moments have been:

  • Identification of stakeholders of the local and national mobility ecosystem (mobility authorities, urban transport providers and users, elderly people, people with disabilities, pedestrians, cyclists).
  • Public survey through the social media of e-Trikala, that aimed to collect interest from local pharmacists and received mixed reactions.
  • Co-creation of the pilot demonstration with the local ecosystem: namely the Union of Pharmacists in Trikala and the National Union of Pharmacists has been initiated by e-Trikala and some potential routes for the drone flights have emerged.
  • Continuous communication with the Civil Aviation Authority (informally structured) for their constant engagement, since it is regarded as a key stakeholder.
  • E-Trikala facilitated initial liaison between GRIFF and University of Aegean and the Greek Aviation Authority for the drone equipment.
  • Continuous bilateral contacts and consultations with several stakeholders have taken place in order to co-create the pilot and have public acceptance.
  • The Union of Pharmacists has identified the villages (Megalo Kefalovriso, Leptokaria, Raksa) as potential targets.

Next steps

The first demonstration attempt started in September 2021 and it will last for two months. Three routes will be used and tested during the demonstration:

1. The Trikala – Leptokaria village that is 1.2 km (each way);

2. The Trikala – Megalo Kefalovriso that is 3.4 km (each way);

3. The Trikala Mikro Kefallovriso that is 5.7 km (each way).

The net weight that the drone will transfer is up to 1.5 kilos.

During this timeframe, data will be collected to measure a series of KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) regarding the drones operation, safety, environmental footprint, stakeholders and citizens acceptance that have been specified through the previous co-creation process. The data and the KPIs will be further analysed and assessed to propose policy recommendations and SUMP guidelines to enable such services that could contribute to the well-being of our society and especially to the well-being of vulnerable population groups.

The pilot test will be followed by the dissemination of results at a European level, as the program is part of the research and innovative programs of the European Union (Horizon 2020 and CIVITAS). The services of the above project are fully compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), as well as with the regulations of the Civil Aviation Authority.

Given that the promotion of the use of drones for the transport of pharmaceutical material is expected to bring multiple benefits at national and European level, we believe that the activities we carry out within the project will have a positive impact on health, social inclusion, protecting the environment, improving urban mobility and promoting entrepreneurship.

Additionally, in the next months, qualitative interviews will take place with stakeholders and citizens. Also, online surveys will generate quantitative data. This data collection processes will be conducted before and after the pilot demonstration so that comparisons are able to be made.
In addition, virtual workshops with multiple stakeholders will be conducted and they will be asked to provide opinions and preferences to structured scenarios.