By S.L. Fuller | February 9, 2018
Airbus Helicopters has a package-delivering unmanned aircraft system. And at the Singapore Airshow, that drone, Skyways, flew for the first time.
The first flight demonstration occurred at the National University of Singapore. According to Airbus, it took off from its dedicated maintenance center and landed on the roof of a specially designed parcel station. There, a robotic arm automatically loaded a parcel. After the package was loaded, the Skyways drone took off again and returned to land and automatically unloaded the package.
Skyways is a project being conducted in partnership with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), launched in February 2016. The project aims to develop an urban unmanned air system to address the safety, efficiency and sustainability of the air delivery business in cities such as Singapore. The collaboration was subsequently extended in April 2017 with Singapore Post (SingPost) becoming the local logistics partner for the project.
Airbus said it aims to conduct a trial phase this year, consisting of five or six drones being used for several months to collect data. The drones would use predetermined aerial corridors to ensure that there are no collisions with other traffic.
According to Skyways project lead Leo Jeoh, Singapore “already has efficient delivery services … [but] is a fantastic test bed for new technologies and business models. The combined support of CAAS and an innovation-friendly government creates an ideal environment to perfect the system and roll it out faster than in other locations.”
Airbus is acting as the project’s system architect and provider. The concept involves systems and structures that allow drones to land, dock with secure structures, discharge or take on payloads, and then fly off to other destinations, the manufacturer said.
“Today’s flight demonstration paves the way positively to our local trial service launch in the coming months. It is the result of a very strong partnership among the stakeholders involved, especially the close guidance and confidence from the CAAS,” Alain Flourens, Airbus Helicopters’ EVP of engineering and chief technical officer, said Thursday. “Safe and reliable urban air delivery is a reality not too distant into the future, and Airbus is certainly excited to be a forerunner in this endeavor.”
While the trials are ongoing, students and staff at the university will be able to use Skyways to have small parcels, between some 4 and 8 pounds, delivered to designate parcel stations within the campus.
“The urban logistics challenge is complex and an ecosystem of parcel lockers and autonomous vehicles will be a key piece to solving this puzzle,” said SingPost Group Chief Information Officer Alex Tan. “The trial service that is taking off later this year will be an important step forward for SingPost in our efforts to develop solutions for the future logistics needs of Singapore and other cities of the world.”