We often think of drone deliveries as being most useful in remote, hard-to-reach locations. Usually, that involves providing a cargo-carrying alternative in rural areas or a link to places cut off by natural disasters. But ‘hard-to-reach’ can also apply in some of the world’s busiest ports.
A drone delivery project with a difference has taken off in Singapore, as part of a project launched by Airbus and Wilhelmsen to take items from shore to ship. It’s the first deployment of drone technology in real-time port conditions. The aim is to provide a valuable link between working vessels at anchorage and teams on land.
Airbus Skyways drone delivers via ‘aerial corridors’
The Airbus and Wilhelmsen trials took off from Marina South Pier in Singapore and navigated autonomously along pre-determined ‘aerial-corridors’. It took a 1.5km flight to Eastern Working Anchorage, where it landed on the deck of the Swire Pacific Offshore’s Anchor Handling Tug Supply vessel, M/V Pacific Centurion.
The drone dropped off its 1.5kg cargo without a hitch before returning to base. The entire delivery, from take-off to landing back at base, took just ten minutes.
Delivery trials from tugboat to ship have been conducted before in the maritime industry. But Airbus and Wilhelmsen claim the trial represents the first shore-to-ship delivery of this range and scope.
Marius Johansen, VP Commercial, Wilhelmsen Ships Agency said, “The now proven, seamless operation of drone deliveries from shore-to-ship, in one of the world’s busiest ports, proves the hard work, investment and faith we, and indeed our partners, placed in the Agency by Air drone delivery project over the past two years was not misplaced”.
Wilhelmsen views delivery by drone in busy ports as a natural evolution. The method offers a more cost-effective, quicker and safer means of delivering, small, time-critical items to vessels.
Johansen added, “Delivery of essential spares, medical supplies and cash to Master via launch boat, is an established part of our portfolio of services, which we provide day in and day out, in ports all over the world. Modern technology such as 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”.
Wilhelmsen estimates that using drones could potentially reduce delivery costs by up to 90% in some ports, as well as having a smaller carbon footprint than launch boats.
Airbus and Wilhelmsen partnership comes to fruition
Wilhelmsen and Airbus signed an MOU in June 2018 to develop shore-to-ship drone delivery solutions.
“We are thrilled to launch the first trial of its kind in the maritime world. 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 new terrain in the maritime industry,” says Leo Jeoh, Airbus Skyways lead.
The ongoing trial will focus on offshore supply vessels at anchorage 1.5km from the pier. Flights will be limited to this distance for the time being. Flights will gradually be extended to as far as 3km from the shore.
The trial is being facilitated by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore. The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore is also working with Wilhelmsen and Airbus to ensure the safety of the trials.