We’ve heard tons about drone delivery trials, but I’ve never met anyone who’s had a real life delivery via drone but that might be about to change, but as part of the middle mile rather than the last mile. Royal Mail have announced a trial of the first out-of-sight, autonomous scheduled drone flights between the UK mainland and the Scilly Isles. The trial will see Royal Mail use Uncrewed Aerial Vehicle (UAV) flights to deliver Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), COVID testing kits and other mail to the Isles of Scilly. And this is a big drone… it’s practically a full size airplane!
Royal Mail has also become the first to execute inter-island parcel deliveries across the Scillies, as part of the trial.
The Government-funded project, which has been developed in partnership with DronePrep, Skyports, Consortiq Limited, University of Southampton, Excalibur Healthcare Services and Windracers Limited, will initially have a particular focus on helping to fight the pandemic by delivering crucial PPE and testing kits to the islands’ most vulnerable and remote communities.
The Windracers Uncrewed Aerial Vehicle drone is also able to accommodate mail of most shapes and sizes, enabling more general mail to be transported to the islands as part of the trial.
The project unites two pioneering companies that have previously acted in response to the UK COVID-19 challenge – Windracers and the drone delivery arm of air mobility company Skyports – for the first time. It will showcase how Uncrewed Aerial Vehicles of different sizes could be used to complement each other in future.
Parcels will be flown to the islands’ airport in St. Mary’s, by a UK-built twin-engine Windracers Uncrewed Aerial Vehicle, which can carry up to 100kg worth of mail at a time – equivalent to a typical delivery round. A smaller VTO drone, operated by Skyports, will then be used to transport items to a number of delivery points throughout the islands.
The autonomous flight route that the Uncrewed Aerial Vehicle takes involves being roughly 70 miles out of sight before it reaches its destination.
The UAVs will complement existing forms of transport for mail to the Isles of Scilly. They are able to fly in poor weather conditions – including fog – as they are uncrewed and not dependent on tides. This could potentially make them well suited to help Royal Mail better service remote island communities.
If the trial is successful, the technology will be considered by Royal Mail to help identify opportunities to support postmen and postwomen in delivering to very remote areas and addresses across the UK.
In December, Royal Mail became the first nationwide UK parcel carrier to deliver a parcel for recipients via drone to a remote lighthouse on the Isle of Mull in Scotland. In coming months, a consultation will be undertaken with residents on the use of drones to deliver to rural communities on the island.