- Airbus on Tuesday announced a partnership with Wilhelmsen Ships Service to begin testing parcel delivery by drone to ships at sea.
- The pilot will begin in Q3 2018, as the second stage of a larger project Airbus is conducting in Singapore, Skyways, which will test its drones' potential to deliver parcels to designated dropoff spots at the National University of Singapore.
- The partnership with Wilhelmsen will take advantage of the existing infrastructure and data from the university project to put autonomous drone delivery to vessels "to the test in hectic, real-world port conditions," according to Wilhelmsen's press release.
Drone enthusiasts will have their eyes on Singapore when the Skyways project launches in July, as the technology is put to the test for both commercial and industrial use cases.
"We believe that there is tremendous scope for future applications for Skyways," Airbus told Supply Chain Dive in a statement. "It is aimed at experimenting and developing regulations, technologies, and operational requirements to safely operate a drone parcel delivery service in urban and maritime environments."
In a university setting, Airbus will be carefully watching how effectively drones can consistently fly set routes for dedicated last-mile delivery. If successful, such a pilot could easily extend to other environments with a high density of shoppers, such as cities.
The partnership with Wilhelmsen is equally consequential.
It will be a test of how economic small-parcel delivery by air could be for the vessel maintenance orders Wilhelmsen services. The company predicts the technology could reduce its shore-to-ship delivery costs of parts by up to 90%.
Drones must also prove they can operate despite the hectic environment a port provides, navigating skyways despite the constant movement of containers, people, and even the ships they will deliver to.
Airbus said the project will help it "assess the efficiency and economic effectiveness" of air cargo delivery at sea, and provide "tangible proof to authorities, vessel operators and the general public" commercial drones can operate safely and reliably.