Royal Mail conducts first drone deliveries to an island

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In this video, Amy Richards, a postwoman for the Isles of Scilly, and Nick Landon, Royal Mail’s Chief Commercial Officer, talk about the project

Royal Mail has become the first UK parcel carrier to deliver mail to a UK island, with a 70-mile out-of-sight, autonomous flight to the Isles of Scilly. Royal Mail has also trialed the first inter-island drone flights with a smaller vertical take-off and landing drone.

The government-funded project has been developed with a number of partners, including DronePrep, Skyports, Consortiq, University of Southampton, Excalibur Healthcare Services and Windracers. It will initially focus on medical PPE delivery, but is also able to accommodate mail of most shapes and sizes, enabling more general mail to be transported to the islands as part of the trial.

Parcels are flown to the islands’ St Mary’s Airport by a UK-built twin-engine Windracers UAV, which has a 100kg payload – equivalent to a typical delivery round. A smaller VTO drone, operated by Skyports, is then used to transport items to a number of delivery points throughout the islands.

According to Royal Mail, the UAVs will complement existing forms of transportation for mail to the islands. They are able to fly in poor weather conditions – including fog – as they are unmanned and not dependent on tides. This could potentially make them well suited to help Royal Mail better serve remote island communities.

Gareth Whatmore, CEO at DronePrep, noted, “This project has given us the opportunity to understand how multiple drone delivery platforms can be utilized to overcome and solve real-world logistical challenges. With the introduction of drones to complement existing supply chains we have a huge opportunity to improve the island connection.”

If the trial is successful, the technology will be considered by Royal Mail to help identify opportunities to support staff in delivering to very remote areas and addresses across the UK.

In December, Royal Mail became the first nationwide UK parcel carrier to deliver a parcel via drone, to a remote lighthouse on the Isle of Mull in Scotland. It says that a consultation will be undertaken with residents in the coming months on the use of drones to deliver to rural communities on the island.

Nick Landon, chief commercial officer at Royal Mail, concluded, “Two more major UK firsts is hugely significant for us, and we are incredibly proud to find ways to support the more remote and isolated communities we serve. This is part of our constant drive to incorporate the best and most innovative technologies into our network. We’ve seen a huge increase in parcel volumes since the start of the pandemic, and this is just one of the ways we are looking to support our postmen and postwomen in delivering fast and convenient services for all of our customers while reducing our carbon emissions.”

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Lawrence has been covering engineering subjects – with a focus on motorsport technology – since 2007 and has edited and contributed to a variety of international titles. Currently, he is responsible for content across UKI Media & Events' portfolio of websites while also writing for the company's print titles.

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