Royal Mail launches cargo drone test flights
Royal Mail is organizing a series of autonomous cargo drone test flights to the Isles of Scilly in the UK.
The month-long series of autonomous test flights between Perran Porth Airfield in Cornwall on the mainland and St Mary’s on the Isles of Scilly use Windracer’s UAV for a 110 Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) route km long. The flights are the first time a delivery company has delivered mail using an autonomous drone to the British Channel Islands.
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The trials also include inter-island drone flights using smaller vertical take-off and landing drones that will deliver mail to recipients around the Isles of Scilly, operated by drone company Skyports.
In addition to mail, the scheduled drone service will provide essential personal protective equipment and Covid test kits to the islands.
The Windracers Ultra twin-engine fixed-wing drone is capable of carrying 100 kg (220 lbs) over 1000 km (620 kg), but will carry half of that during the test. The Ultra drone was designed in partnership with the University of Southampton primarily to distribute goods for humanitarian aid.
The Ultra’s flight control systems were developed by Distributed Avionics, which is part of the Windracers Group, including stand-alone systems, which use proprietary technology and cloud-based mission management software.
Drones will be used in addition to existing forms of mail transport to the Isles of Scilly. Royal Mail is interested in the Ultra drone because since it is unscrewed and is not dependent on the tides, it can fly in bad weather conditions and be used as a back-up logistics system.
The trial will also look at what fuel savings drones could provide, as part of Royal Mail’s goal of reducing operational emissions.
If the Isles of Scilly trial is successful, the technology will be considered by Royal Mail for regular deliveries to very remote areas and addresses across the UK. In December, Royal Mail delivered a parcel by drone to a remote lighthouse on the Isle of Mull in Scotland and consultation is underway to establish regular service.
Charles Scales, CEO of Windracers, said: “This project has proven the efficiency and robustness of Ultra, with each round trip being 211 km and being completed in less than two hours.
“Thanks to our unique CAA clearances, this will be the first time that a large, economical, load-carrying drone has been used between the Isles of Scilly and mainland Cornwall in a month-long trial.”
The UK government-funded flight test program involves Royal Mail, Windracers, University of Southampton, Skyports, software company DronePrep, medical company Excalibur Healthcare Services and drone operating company Consortiq.
Nick Landon, Commercial Director of Royal Mail, said: “It is part of our constant drive to incorporate the best and most innovative technologies into our network. We have seen a huge increase in parcel volumes since the start of the pandemic, and this is just one of the ways we are looking to support our letter carriers and postal workers. “