Shaping the future of drone delivery. Airbus opens commercial drone services in Asia-Pacific

miércoles, 7 de febrero de 2018

Skyways drone project in the spotlight at the 2018 Singapore Airshow

In partnership with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), Airbus is on track to test an automated package delivery system using unmanned drones in the first half of 2018.

Dubbed Skyways, the project signed up SingPost in April 2017 as its logistics partner to trial small parcel delivery via autonomous drones to designated stations on the campus of the National University of Singapore (NUS). Incoming packages are first loaded automatically onto the drone via a robotic arm at designated parcel stations. Drones launch and fly autonomously, delivering the package to delivery stations on the campus, where it is then stored in lockers for campus dwellers to retrieve it.

The drones will fly along aerial corridors to avoid collision while the central ground operations centre continuously monitors flight operations and unmanned air traffic.

There’s nothing toy-like about these drones: they are sophisticated, high-end aeronautical products that draw upon the technical and engineering expertise of both Airbus Helicopters in terms of air vehicles and Airbus Defence and Space in terms of batteries and command centre capabilities, among others.

The systems architecture, first developed and validated in France, was finalized and then designed and built in Singapore. “We will have five or six drones flying in the initial trial phase this year and we expect it to run several months to be able to collect relevant data and insights,” explains design office head at Airbus Helicopters and Skyways project lead Leo Jeoh.

When asked why the project is based in Singapore, Jeoh, a former Singapore Air Force flight test engineer, replies: “While the country already has efficient delivery services, the real reason is that Singapore is a fantastic test bed for new technologies and business models. The combined support of the CAAS and an innovation-friendly government creates an ideal environment to perfect the system and roll it out faster than in other locations.”

Singapore as well as many of Asia’s megacities, such as Jakarta, Bangkok and Manila, suffers from traffic congestion, a growing urban trend with no lull in sight. In the future, an airborne package delivery system could save lives by ditching the roads to airlift medical supplies across town or even help build businesses by making it easier to get products to customers without the need for shops or delivery trucks.

If successful, the Skyways team intends to extend the scope of initial test phase to deliver packages to ships anchored in the Port of Singapore. Later iterations could include delivering higher-value goods or medical supplies to disaster-hit regions, where roads may be impassable.

“Tech development is far from being the only hurdle to overcome to rollout full-fledged drone delivery in cities,” states Jeoh. Drones will eventually need to share airspace with passenger aircraft and rotorcraft, military vehicles and other aircraft, and this will require a sophisticated traffic management system to avoid collisions.

“We see Skyways as an important stepping stone in paving the way for air mobility in urban settings. It’s an awesome opportunity for Airbus to run a first live autonomous and electric urban air mobility exploration. We are essentially opening up Pandora’s box to determine what it will take for unmanned vehicles to fly safely in cities. All regulatory issues must be properly addressed before we will see either drones or larger passenger electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles (eVTOLs) such as CityAirbus flying above our heads.”

Gaining trust from regulators and end users is paramount in the quest to make urban air mobility a reality. “I am convinced that Airbus will be pivotal in the shift from ground to air transportation in urban spaces,” says Jeoh. “Through our strong relationship with CAAS, the NUS and SingPost, we will be able to run a meaningful trial that allows us to explore and develop regulations, technologies, and operational requirements to safely operate unmanned vehicles in urban environments while gaining valuable insight from campus dwellers on how they feel about the tech flying around.”

Launches Airbus Aerial Asia, based in Singapore

  • Expands commercial drone business to Asia-Pacific in key sectors Bernard
  • Leong appointed Head of Airbus Aerial Asia

Singapore, 7 February 2018 – Airbus has launched the Asia-Pacific operations of its “Airbus Aerial” commercial drone services at the Singapore Airshow 2018. The newly established regional base of Airbus Aerial adds to two existing hubs based in Atlanta, U.S. and Munich, Germany.

“We have chosen Singapore as the headquarters for our Asia-Pacific operations because it is a well-established regional hub with excellent connectivity to key countries such as Australia, India, Japan and China,” said Jana Rosenmann, Head of Unmanned Aerial Systems at Airbus. “It is also a great centre for innovation and potential partnerships, enjoying strong support from the local government for start-ups as well as the development of smart technologies.”

Initially focussing on the development of new imagery services, Airbus Aerial leverages the latest software and aerospace technologies to provide actionable data and analysis of information provided by drones, satellites, high altitude aircraft and other sources. With its imagery services, Airbus Aerial targets a range of applications for industries such as insurance, agriculture, oil and gas and utilities, as well as state and local governments.

During its first year in operation, Airbus Aerial played a critical role in the U.S., helping several major insurance companies assess damage and process claims faster than ever before. These results were achieved by providing before-and-after satellite imagery of affected areas and real-time imagery collected by drones during fly-overs. These images were then blended with proprietary Airbus data analytics to help insurers assess damage and prioritise resources.

These initial services were provided in 2017, following Hurricane Harvey in the Houston, Texas area and Hurricane Irma in southern Florida and, more recently, after the devastating wildfires in California.

The Asia-Pacific base of Airbus Aerial is led by Bernard Leong, who joined Airbus in January 2018. Previously, he was Head of Post Office Network and Digital Services at Singapore Post, with an extensive business and technology management background, including drone delivery and autonomous vehicles within the Asia-Pacific markets.

The first target of the Singapore team will be to explore potential within the Asian regional insurance market and extend Airbus Aerial’s footprint from the U.S. and Europe to the Asia-Pacific region. It will gather information to provide relief and recovery in disaster prone regions with dedicated disaster management support, and also identify local possibilities including agriculture, critical infrastructure monitoring like power lines and railroad, and oil and gas mining where the business model may fit.

Airbus Aerial Asia also aims in the next years to offer cargo drone services with autonomous logistic systems, applying the principle of supporting an open ecosystem while seeking strong partnerships with technology providers and drone operators in the Asian region.

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