Maritime drone delivery trial successful

maritime drone delivery
© iStock/RuslanDashinsky

A trial deployment of a commercial shore-to-ship delivery system utilising drones in Singapore has been completed successfully.

The pilot of the “Skyways” system, a collaboration between aerospace manufacturer Airbus and Norwegian shipping firm Wilhelmsen, saw a drone built by Airbus deliver a three-pound (1.36 kilogram) payload of consumables produced by Wilhelmsen’s 3D printing “micro-factory” 1.5 kilometres offshore to the Pacific Centurion, an anchor handling tug vessel. The operation is reported to have taken 10 minutes. In addition to providing the delivered package, Wilhelmsen took charge of the administrative side, arranging the necessary permits; while Airbus provided the system and technical expertise. Singaporean authorities provided additional support to the project.

Marius Johansen, Vice President of Commercial for Wilhelmsen Ships Agency, said: “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. Modern technology such as Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), is 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.”

This is the first commercial trial of Skyways, though the system has previously undergone non-commercial testing; trials will continue with vessels 1.5 kilometres from the Singaporean shore, before gradually building towards distances of three kilometres. Traditionally, shore-to-ship deliveries have been conducted by small harbour vessels; but the Skyways team say maritime drone delivery offers better speed and safety, as well as reducing delivery costs by up to 90 per cent.

The heavy-lift drone used by Skyways is capable of operating autonomously and is expected to work in conjunction with a network of electronic drop box systems onshore. The boxes are described as being similar to Amazon’s parcel locker system, but with the loading and handling of packages conducted by robotic arms.

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