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Royal Mail trials first out-of-sight autonomous drone delivery flight

Tom Shearsmith
10 May 2021

Royal Mail has announced the a trial of the first out-of-sight, autonomous scheduled drone flights between the UK mainland and an island, and plans to become the first delivery service to execute inter-island parcel deliveries across the Scillies.

The trial will see the delivery company use Uncrewed Aerial Vehicle (UAV) flights to deliver PPE, COVID testing kits and other mail to the Isles of Scilly.

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, with the technology to be used in other sectors if successful.

The Windracers drone is able to accommodate mail of most shapes and sizes, enabling more general mail and parcels to be transported to the islands as part of the trial.

Parcels will be flown to the islands’ airport in St. Mary’s, by a UK-built twin-engine Windracers UAV, 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 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 - potentially making 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.

The trial will also examine fuel efficiencies that the drones could provide, as part of the Company’s continued drive to reduce emissions associated with its operations. The potential introduction of low emission vehicles, such as UAVs, will help the company inform its long-term environmental strategy and meet its goals of delivering a cleaner future.

Nick Landon, Chief Commercial Officer at Royal Mail, said: “Two more major UK firsts is hugely significant for us, and we are incredibly proud to find ways to support the more remote and isolated communities we serve.

“We’ve 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 postmen and postwomen in delivering fast and convenient services for all of our customers while reducing our carbon emissions.”

Gareth Whatmore, CEO at DronePrep, added: “This project has given us the opportunity to understand how multiple drone delivery platforms can be utilised to overcome and solve real world logistical challenges. With the introduction of drones to complement existing supply chains we have huge opportunity to improve the island connection.”

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