Royal Mail has begun tests on parcel and test-kit delivery services using autonomous drones on the Isle of Scilly.
The Isles are set to benefit from tests of the new technology that will allow mail to be delivered more easily during the pandemic and help reduce the firm’s carbon footprint.
Developed in partnership with DronePrep, Skyports, Consortiq Limited, University of Southampton, Excalibur Healthcare Services and Windracers Limited, the project has also received funding from the UK Government and will aid remote and vulnerable communities.
Parcels will be flown from mainland UK to the islands’ airport in St. Mary’s using Windracer’s UAV, which can carry up to 100kg worth of mail. A smaller VTO drone, operated by Skyports, will then be used to transport items to a number of delivery points throughout the islands.
The UAV will travel around 70 miles out of sight before it reaches its destination as part of its autonomous flight route.
The aim is for the drones to complement existing forms of mail transportation rather than a full replacement service. The drones are able to fly in poor weather conditions – including fog – as they are uncrewed and not dependent on tides, making them well suited to remote island services.
If trials are successful, Royal Mail says the drones will be considered “to help identify opportunities to support postmen and postwomen in delivering to very remote areas and addresses across the UK”.
Commenting on the news, 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. This is part of our constant drive to incorporate the best and most innovative technologies into our network.
“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.”
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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 Scottish island of Mull. In the coming months, a consultation will be undertaken with residents on the use of drones to deliver to rural communities on the island.
Gareth Whatmore, CEO at DronePrep, said “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 a huge opportunity to improve the island connection.”
Additionally, the drone delivery technology could have huge benefits on the environment, with the introduction of low emission vehicles, such as UAVs reducing the need for costly transportation of mail across the water.
Gareth Beverley, Managing Director at Consortiq, said: “It’s been fantastic to see a real-life use case for drone delivery technology come to life. The benefits to the local community are immense, and the implications for a more environmentally friendly future are very positive. I hope this sets the stage for widespread adoption of drone deliveries in the UK.”