Airbus Helicopters has completed the first flight of its Skyways unmanned air vehicle at the National University of Singapore.
The experimental project was launched together with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore in February 2016, with the aim of developing an urban unmanned air system to address the safety, efficiency and sustainability of the air delivery business in cities such as Singapore.
“Today’s flight demonstration paves the way positively to our local trial service launch in the coming months,” said Alain Flourens, executive vice president of engineering and chief technical officer at Airbus Helicopters. “It is the result of a very strong partnership among the stakeholders involved, especially the close guidance and confidence from the CAAS. Safe and reliable urban air delivery is a reality not too distant into the future, and Airbus is certainly excited to be a forerunner in this endeavour.”
The drone took off from its dedicated maintenance centre and landed on the roof of a specially designed parcel station where a parcel was loaded automatically using a robotic arm. The Skyways drone then took off again and returned to land, demonstrating its automatic unloading capability.
“The Skyways project is an important innovation for the aviation industry,” said Kevin Shum, director general of the CAAS. “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. We are pleased with the good progress that Skyways is making and look forward to deepening our partnership with Airbus.”
Airbus Helicopters is the overall system architect and provider, contributing its capabilities in drone platforms as well as its concept of future parcel delivery, involving systems and structures that allow drones to land, dock with secure structures, discharge or take on payloads, and then fly away. In April 2017, the project was expanded to include Singapore Post as the local logistics partner.
“The urban logistics challenge is complex and an ecosystem of parcel lockers and autonomous vehicles will be a key piece to solving this puzzle,” said Alex Tan, group chief information officer of SingPost. “The trial service that is taking off later this year will be an important step forward for SingPost in our efforts to develop solutions for the future logistics needs of Singapore and other cities of the world.”
Airbus Helicopters is already at an advanced stage with the Skyways project, with equipment and facilities installed at the NUS campus. The drone will be demonstrated at the university when the trial service commences later this year. Students and staff will be able to make use of Skyways to have small parcels between 2kg and 4kg delivered to designated parcel stations within the campus, in an area the size of 150 football fields.
“Project Skyways aligns with NUS’ vision of serving as a living lab to pilot innovative technologies and solutions,” said Ho Teck Hua, senior deputy president and provost of NUS. “The NUS community is very excited to be the first in Singapore to experience this novel concept of parcel delivery by drones – an endeavour that could redefine urban logistics. Students from the NUS Faculty of Engineering also have the opportunity to gain valuable experience as interns with Airbus for this project. We look forward to working closely with Airbus, CAAS and SingPost to carry out the campus-wide trial.”
Skyways is one of a number of urban air mobility projects currently being researched, including the Racer high-speed helicopter demonstrator and the Vahana and CityAirbus autonomous flying vehicle concepts, according to Airbus.