"One key takeaway...is the importance of developing the technology hand in hand with the regulatory authorities, not just within Singapore but also those of other countries."
In an article posted on the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) website, Dr. Bernard Leong, Head of Post Office Network and Digital Services at SingPost, shared what the postal services group has learnt from its drone delivery trials and possible future directions for this technology.
In September 2015, Singapore successfully completed the world's first mail devliery by drone. It was a joint effort by SingPost and IDA Labs (now IMDA’s PIXEL Labs)
The fundamental process of mail delivery doesn’t change whether it is done by postmen or drones. Dr. Leong said, “Traditionally, in postal delivery, we have a sender and a recipient. At the recipient’s end, a key is required to open the mailbox to collect the mail. In our Pulau Ubin trial, we deployed a drone that flew two kilometers to a landing zone on Pulau Ubin where a postman waited with a smartphone to authenticate that he is the rightful recipient.”
The drone makes the delivery if it receives the authentication signal within three minutes. In the absence of the signal, it will return to the base. The technology was derived from SingPost's experience in developing in POPStation parcel locker.Customers can use a mobile application to unlock the lockers and pick up their package at any convenient time.
Safety, regulations, costs
Due to cyber security and airworthiness, it is not conducive to fly drones within a dense city like Singapore. But drones will play a role. An ecosystem composed of parcel lockers, self-driving cars and drones might be more useful for solving the puzzle of urban logistics.
Dr. Leong explained that drones might find application in Singapore for reaching remote locations, such as the offshore islands, and for cross-border eCommerce.
An important factor for large-scale commercial applications would be cost. Dr. Leong said that Moore’s Law is applying to drones and the cost of drones is going down. When drone costs drop below S$100, and a 5G mobile network is in place,it will become economically viable. This could happen within the next three to five years.
The project required the team to collaborate with the aviation regulator, to satisfy them that the flight would be safe and with the telecommunications regulator to obtain a secure frequency for the navigation system so that the drone to travel beyond four kilometers out of the line of visible sight.
Going forward, a domestic as well as international supportive regulatory environment for operators and startups would be crucial for more experimentation and potential mainstream adoption. Dr. Leong said, “One key takeaway from our experience is the importance of developing the technology hand in hand with the regulatory authorities, not just within Singapore but also those of other countries.”
Read the article by Dr. Bernard Leong here.
Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas
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