Drone deliveries: Coming soon to a deck near you?

UAVs can potentially reduce delivery costs by up to 90% UAVs can potentially reduce delivery costs by up to 90%

Wilhelmsen and Airbus’s shore-toship Singapore pilot project, marks the first deployment of drone technology in real-time port conditions, delivering a variety of small, time-critical items to working vessels at anchorage.

Lifting off from Marina South Pier in Singapore with 3D printed consumables from Wilhelmsen’s onshore 3D printing micro-factory, the Airbus Skyways drone navigated autonomously along pre-determined ‘aerial-corridors’ in its 1.5km flight to Eastern Working Anchorage. The drone landed on the deck of the Swire Pacific Offshore (SPO)’s Anchor Handling Tug Supply (AHTS) vessel, M/V Pacific Centurion and deposited its 1.5kg cargo without a hitch before returning to its base. The entire delivery, from take-off towards the vessel, to landing back at base, took just ten minutes.

Though small drone delivery trials from tugboat to ship have been conducted before by a number of shipping companies and service providers, shore-to-ship delivery of this range and scope has never been explored, prior to this trial.

Operations began with a Toolbox Talk with the Wilhelmsen, Airbus and SPO crew to ensure that the risk assessment was understood by all parties. With final safety checks completed, Wilhelmsen’s Marina South Pier team loaded the drone. Supported by spotters stationed on board the vessel deck to ensure the safety of the crew and vessel, the drone took off towards the vessel, landing on the dedicated area on the main deck where the parcel was retrieved by the officer on board.

Offering a more cost effective, quicker and safer means of delivering, small, time-critical items to vessels, Wilhelmsen sees delivery by drone, rather than launch boat, as part and parcel of their continued evolution of the agency business.

Commenting on the successful first delivery flight, Marius Johansen, VP Commercial, Wilhelmsen Ships Agency said, “Delivery of essential spares, medical supplies and cash to Master via launch boat, is an established part of our portfolio of husbandry services, which we provide day in and day out, in ports all over the world. Modern technology such as Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), is just a new tool, albeit a very cool one, with which we can push our industry ever forward and improve how we serve our customers”.

Less labour dependent than delivery via launch, autonomous Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) can potentially reduce delivery costs by up to 90% in some ports and have a smaller carbon footprint than launch boats.

By Jake Frith

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