As part of its Skyways project, Airbus has kicked off a new drone delivery trial in which its unmanned aircraft of the same name will deposit packages onto ships anchored offshore. Designed to streamline loading operations, it’s hoped the technology now being tested in Singapore will not only speed up delivery times, but offer a greener and safer way of doing business in busy ports.
Airbus is conducting the trials with logistics company Wilhelmsen Ships Services and the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore. The very first flight took place last Friday, with one of the company’s Skyways parcel delivery drones loaded up with 1.5 kg (3.3 lb) of 3D-printed objects for its first day on the job.
This meant taking off from the shoreline of Singapore’s Marina South Pier and flying autonomously over a distance of 1.5 km (0.93 mi) to a ship anchored off-shore. It then deposited its cargo on deck before completing the return leg, with the entire trip said to take no more than 10 minutes.
“We are thrilled to launch the first trial of its kind in the maritime world,” said Airbus’ Skyways lead, Leo Jeoh. “Today’s accomplishment is a culmination of months of intense preparation by our dedicated team, and the strong collaboration with our partner, as we pursue a new terrain in the maritime industry.”
According to Airbus, the Skyways drone is actually capable of carrying up to 4 kg (8.8 lb) and reaching vessels as far as 3 km (1.86 mi) off shore, traveling through dedicated aerial corridors with autonomous control software.
The remainder of the trials will explore these capabilities, as well as how unmanned aircraft can be put to use in the wider shipping industry to make things run a little smoother. These kinds of supplementary loading procedures could apparently speed up deliveries by up to six times, lower costs by up to 90 percent, help cut down on carbon emissions and also avoid accidents that can occur through typical loading procedures in busy ports.
“Delivery of essential spares, medical supplies and cash to master via launch boat, is an established part of our portfolio of husbandry services, which we provide day in and day out, in ports all over the world,” says Marius Johansen, Vice President Commercial, Ships Agency at Wilhelmsen Ships Services. “Modern technology such as the unmanned aircraft systems, are just a new tool, albeit a very cool one, with which we can push our industry ever forward and improve how we serve our customers.”
Airbus will soon build on these initial flights with further testing of its Skyways drone in urban environments, with trials to kick off “soon” in partnership with the National University of Singapore.