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Credit: Airbus Helicopters

Credit: Airbus Helicopters

NUS and Airbus demonstrate commercial parcel delivery capabilities of Skyways drone

Safe and reliable urban air delivery is a reality not too distant into the future.

Airbus Helicopters (Airbus) has successfully completed its first Skyways drone flight demonstration at the National University of Singapore (NUS), according to its press release issued on Feb 8.

The Skyways project is an experimental project that aims at developing a safe and economically viable aerial unmanned parcel delivery system for use in dense urban environments. It is one of the innovative Urban Air Mobility projects by Airbus.

The project is now at an advanced stage, given Airbus Helicopters’ capabilities in drone platforms and its concept of future parcel delivery. The research and development (R&D) phase is progressing well, with equipment and facilities installed at the NUS campus.

The concept of future parcel delivery 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.

As Mr Alex Tan, Chief Information Officer of Singapore Post (SingPost) Group, shared, an ecosystem of parcel lockers and autonomous vehicles will be a key piece in solving the complex challenge of urban logistics.

According to a report by Straits Times, each Skyways drone has eight motorised rotors and the drone can fly even if half of them are out of action. The drones will not be flown in bad weather conditions such as heavy thunderstorms and strong winds.

In the flight demonstration, the Skyways drone took off from its dedicated maintenance centre and landed on the roof of a specially designed parcel station where a parcel was automatically loaded via a robotic arm. Once successfully loaded with the parcel, the Skyways drone took off again and returned to land, demonstrating its automatic unloading capability.

According to Mr Kevin Shum, Director-General of Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), “the Skyways project is an important innovation for the aviation industry. CAAS has been working closely with Airbus on the project, with an emphasis on co-developing systems and rules to ensure that such aircraft can operate in an urban environment safely and optimally. For Singapore, this project will help to develop innovative rules to support the development of the unmanned aircraft industry in Singapore.”

The progress is also the result of a very strong partnership among stakeholders. This inaugural flight demonstration follows the launch of the experimental project with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) in February 2016 to develop an urban unmanned air system to address the safety, efficiency, and sustainability of the air delivery business in cities such as Singapore.

Subsequently, in April 2017, Singapore Post (SingPost) joined the collaboration to become the local logistics partner to the project.

According to Alain Flourens, Airbus Helicopters’ Executive Vice President of Engineering and Chief Technical Officer, the “flight demonstration paves the way positively to our local trial service launch in the coming months.”

Various tests are already underway, and the unmanned air system will be demonstrated in the university when the trial service commences this year. As reported earlier, Airbus is looking to extend its urban air delivery service to other areas of Singapore.

In the trial service of the Skyways system, campus students and staff of NUS will be able to make use of Skyways to have small parcels between 2kg and 4kg delivered to designated parcel stations within the campus, which is the size of 150 football fields.

The Skyways project also aligns with NUS’ vision of serving as a living lab to pilot innovative technologies and solutions. Students from the NUS Faculty of Engineering will have the opportunity to gain valuable experience as interns with Airbus for this project. according to Professor Ho Teck Hua, Senior Deputy President and Provost of NUS.

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