Windracers Isles of Scilly Airbridge trial with Royal Mail. Autopilot technology powered by Distributed Avionics.
- Royal Mail and partners have delivered two more UK firsts. As part of a specialist consortium, Royal Mail becomes the first UK parcel carrier to deliver mail to a UK island in a 70 mile out-of-sight, autonomous flight to the Scilly Isles. Royal Mail has also trialled the first inter-island drone flights with a smaller vertical take-off and landing drone.
- Royal Mail has also become the first UK parcel carrier to use a drone to deliver parcels – including essential PPE items – to remote communities on the islands.
- The Company is trialling scheduled, autonomous flights for one month between the Cornish mainland and the Isles of Scilly to help better connect remote island communities.
- The project has been developed via a consortium led by Windracers DronePrep, Consortiq, Excalibur Healthcare Services, and University of Southampton. It has been funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).
- A large, twin-engine, UK-built UAV – from Windracers Limited – will carry mail from the mainland to the islands, and is able to fly in poor weather conditions, including fog, potentially enabling Royal Mail to better serve remote island communities. A smaller Vertical Take-off and Landing (VTO) drone will then fly parcels between the islands for delivery to recipients.
- During the trial, there will be a particular focus on delivering critical PPE and COVID testing kits, from the mainland to communities on the Isles of Scilly. However, other parcels will also be carried, including orders from various retailers.
- The Windracers UAV can carry roughly 100kg worth of mail of all shapes and sizes – equivalent to a typical delivery round.
- If successful, Royal Mail will consider expanding the technology across its network, potentially providing opportunities to better support postmen and postwomen in delivering to remote areas and addresses in the UK.
The Windracers UAV 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 will be flown to the islands’ airport in St. Mary’s, by a UK-built twin-engine Windracers UAV, which can carry up to 100kg worth of mail at a time – equivalent to a typical delivery round.
The autonomous flight route that the UAV takes involves being roughly 70 miles out of sight before it reaches its destination.
The UAVs will complement existing forms of transport for mail to the Isles of Scilly. They are able to fly in poor weather conditions – including fog – as they are uncrewed and not dependent on tides. This could potentially make them well suited to help Royal Mail better service remote island communities.
If the trial is successful, the technology will be considered by Royal Mail to help identify opportunities to support postmen and postwomen 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 for recipients via drone to a remote lighthouse on the Isle of Mull in Scotland. In coming months, a consultation will be undertaken with residents on the use of drones to deliver to rural communities on the island.
The trial will also examine fuel efficiencies that the drones could provide, as part of the Company’s continued drive to reduce emissions associated with its operations.
With the UK’s largest “Feet on the Street” network of over 90,000 postmen and women, Royal Mail already has the lowest reported CO2e emissions per parcel amongst major UK delivery companies.
The trial and potential introduction of low emission vehicles, such as UAVs, help the Company inform its long-term environmental strategy, and to meet its goals of delivering a cleaner future.
Amy Richards, local postwoman for the Isles of Scilly, said:
“It’s great to be involved in this initiative. There are some really remote areas on these islands, and this is a terrific way to help us reach them. It’s really important for us to do all we can to help all areas of the country stay connected – especially in these difficult times.”
Nick Landon, Chief Commercial Officer at Royal Mail, said:
“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.”
Charles Scales, Chief Executive Officer at Windracers, said:
“It’s been a privilege and an honour to serve the Isles of Scilly and Royal Mail’s customers and employees with our autonomous, 100kg over 1,000-kilometre, ULTRA UAV. The ULTRA platform was designed to supply and serve people in remote locations, whether to children in need of medical or food aid in a country as large as South Sudan, or to serve island communities within our home shores. This project has proven the efficiency and robustness of ULTRA, with each round trip being 211km and being completed in less than two hours. With our unique CAA permissions, this will be the first time a large, economic, load carrying UAV is used between the Isles of Scilly and mainland Cornwall in a month-long trial. I want to thank our team and our project partners, the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, Cornwall Development Company, Civil Aviation Authority, DronePrep, Consortiq and University of Southampton.”
Gary Cutts, Future Flight Challenge Director at UKRI, said:
“This ground-breaking initiative is a great example of collaboration between innovative businesses and those delivering key public services. The Government funding provided by the Future Flight programme has delivered solutions to challenges coming from the COVID-19 pandemic and has potential for future applications. It illustrates the real-life benefits to remote communities across the UK that can come from investment in drone technologies.”
Minister for Business Paul Scully said:
“The UK is at the forefront of the aviation revolution, developing newer and more fuel-efficient technologies. Royal Mail’s ‘air bridge’ to the Isles of Scilly will not only connect isolated and rural communities but showcases the real-world potential drones have to truly transform our lives. Backed by government funding, it is initiatives like these which will help us beat COVID-19 and build back better from the pandemic.”
Professor Sir Chris Evans, CEO at Excalibur Healthcare Services, said:
“We are incredibly excited to be part of this initiative, which is a prime example of the excellence of British innovation. Through this collaborative effort, we not only have brought vital PPE and testing kits to people who need them but also lay the groundwork for the use of technology and drones to create positive impacts in the future.’
James Scanlan, Professor of Aerospace Design from the University of Southampton said:
“We are delighted to be supporting this pioneering and important demonstration of real drone operations in routine and regular usage. We are very proud to be working with Royal Mail on this project.”
Note to editors
About Royal Mail plc
Royal Mail plc is the parent company of Royal Mail Group Limited, the leading provider of postal and delivery services in the UK and the UK’s designated universal postal service provider. UK Parcels, International and Letters (“UKPIL”) comprises the company’s UK and international parcels and letters delivery businesses operating under the “Royal Mail” and “Parcelforce Worldwide” brands. Through the Royal Mail Core Network, the company delivers a one-price-goes-anywhere service on a range of parcels and letters products. Royal Mail has the capability to deliver to around 31 million addresses in the UK, six days a week (excluding UK public holidays). Parcelforce Worldwide operates a separate UK network which collects and delivers express parcels. Royal Mail also owns General Logistics Systems (GLS) which operates one of the largest ground-based, deferred parcel delivery networks in Europe.
About Windracers Group
Windracers provides transportation services to the humanitarian aid, research and environmental protection communities using UAV’s (Uncrewed Aerial Vehicles). The UAV produced by Windracers – the Windracers ULTRA (Uncrewed Large Transport Aircraft) platform – has been developed at the University of Southampton funded by Windracers. This twin-engine design will be capable of flying large volume payloads of up to 100kg for 1,000km and operating from a range of landing sites. It will ultimately be fully automated without the need for a pilot on the ground. The UAV has primarily been designed to distribute humanitarian aid.
Distributed Avionics (DA), part of the Windracers group, specialises in high reliability flight control systems for UAVs. The DA autopilot uses patent-pending MasterlessTM technology to bring unparalleled levels of safety to UAV platforms. The DA cloud-based mission management software offers users connectivity to their UAV platforms from anywhere in the world.
Windracers have been awarded part of the £7.35 million funding, which represents the first wave of projects totalling £33.5 million funding through the UK Government’s Future Flight Challenge (FFC). Over the next few years, The FFC will distribute £125 million from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF). The FFC aims to accelerate the UK’s position as a world leader in revolutionising how people, goods and services fly. It focuses on the development and demonstration of a novel integrated aviation system that enables the safe operation of new classes of air vehicles. These include air taxis, drones and regional aircraft using electric or autonomous technologies. The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund aims to bring together researchers and businesses to tackle the big societal and industrial challenges of today.
DronePrep is a government-backed software platform which is helping drone companies and end users unlock new possibilities in low-level airspace to enable new dynamic Drone use cases.
The future of drone delivery involves use of low-level airspace and landing locations not previously used for manned flight i.e. low-level airspace over property and access to land to landing and take-off purposes. The DronePrep platform facilitates communication between landowners, external stakeholders and end users allowing drone users to understand where they can and cannot and can fly and help communicate which landowners are receptive to delivery.
In 2020, DronePrep led collaboration projects, have enabled the UK’s first NHS medical deliveries, brokered the UK’s first airspace leases to enable drone flight in low-level airspace and to support the UK’s first ‘drone enabled’ fully autonomous Farm (and now Royal Mails first ever delivery by Drone).
Our software is designed to communicate landowner drone access policies and delivery locations for 56million land parcels in the UK and is supported (and backed) by: ESRI, Microsoft, BEIS, HM Land Registry, Registrars of Scotland, Ordnance Survey, what3words and Worcestershire’s tech accelerator BETADEN.
UK Research and Innovation (UKRI):
UKRI is the largest public funder of research and innovation in the UK, with a budget of over £8bn. It is composed of seven disciplinary research councils, Innovate UK and Research England.
We operate across the whole country and work with our many partners in higher education, research organisations businesses, government, and charities.
Our vision is for an outstanding research and innovation system in the UK that gives everyone the opportunity to contribute and to benefit, enriching lives locally, nationally and internationally.
Our mission is to convene, catalyse and invest in close collaboration with others to build a thriving, inclusive research and innovation system that connects discovery to prosperity and public good.
At Consortiq, we believe that, with drones, there’s always a better way to do things.
By way of data acquisition, training and consultation, we help our clients take full advantage of drone technology and the information it provides in order to streamline business practices once considered tedious and expensive. We train to instill confidence in those at the controls. We consult to ensure safety and mission success. We serve to help organisations quickly and efficiently achieve what’s most important to them.
Find your better way today. Visit Consortiq.com for details.
About Excalibur Healthcare Services
Excalibur Healthcare Services is a supplier of high-quality medical products and services. During the COVID-19 pandemic the company has served the needs of government, individuals, and healthcare institutions worldwide. Excalibur Healthcare Services benefits from the support of medical experts, and leading healthcare institutions and companies in the UK, Europe, Australia, Canada and the United States.
Excalibur’s Rapid SARS-COV-2 Antigen Test Kit is one of the most accurate and trustworthy testing kits available. It aims to provide you with a positive or negative coronavirus result within 15 minutes from the swab being taken. This test is perfect for medical practices, care homes, businesses and education industries.
Excalibur is led by Professor Sir Christopher Evans, OBE, one of Europe’s foremost biosciences, medical and healthcare entrepreneurs. In addition, Excalibur benefits from the support of medical experts, and leading healthcare institutions and companies in the UK, Europe, Australia, Canada and the United States. Excalibur emanated from the Excalibur Group, formed by Sir Chris in 2009. HYPERLINK “http://www.excaliburhealth.co.uk” www.excaliburhealth.co.uk
About The University of Southampton
The University of the Southampton is a research intensive, Russell Group university with a very strong track record in Aerospace related research. It is the UK’s largest operator of drones with nearly 100 platforms. It has designed, built and flown platforms all over the globe including Antarctica, the Amazon, the Stratosphere and over active volcanoes in Guatemala. The twin-engine Windracers ULTRA, being used in this latest Royal Mail test flight from Cornwall to the Isles of Scilly, was designed and built by engineers at the University.
The University of Southampton leads the £10M CASCADE EPSRC programme grant consortium including the universities of Bristol, Cranfield, Imperial and Manchester, which participated in the first UK demonstration of UTM (operation Zenith) in 2018. It was the first university to get an exemption to fly a large (>20kg) drone from the CAA and was one of the first universities to fly BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight). Professor Scanlan, who leads the University’s drone activities, has given parliamentary evidence to the influential Science and Technology and Defence committees helping to shape the future of civilian drone use in the UK. The University also leads the UK £11M Trustworthy Autonomous Systems research Hub of UK universities and holds a number of strategic research relationships with Airbus, Bae Systems and Rolls-Royce. It is an invited member of two large US drone research consortiums (C-UAS and ASSURE). The Transportation Research Group headed by Professor Tom Cherrett has been leading research into the way drones can be integrated into existing land-based logistics systems. This is being undertaken as part of the EPSRC E-Drone project.
In April 2020, the Windracers ULTRA aircraft, developed as part of one the Phase 1 CASCADE case studies, flew NHS supplies from the UK mainland to the Isle of Wight as part of the FTZ funded Covid-19 emergency. This was a pioneering flight in many respects. It is the heaviest civilian unmanned aircraft to have flown in Europe. It is one of the longest and most complex BVLOS operations to have taken place, operating in live manned airspace with Search And Rescue (SAR) helicopter operations, military, commercial and private aircraft flights all taking place concurrently. The aircraft was flown using the ‘masterless’ flight control system which has been patented and commercialised via a spin-out company called Distributed Avionics.