Autonomous drone makes special deliveries to Scilly Isles

Essential PPE and COVID testing kits have been delivered by autonomous drone flights between the UK mainland and Isles of Scilly as part of trials by Royal Mail and partners.

A test flight from the Cornish mainland to St. Mary’s on the Isles of Scilly is part of the trial of autonomous, scheduled flights (Image: Royal Mail)

Royal Mail has also carried out inter-island parcel deliveries across the Scillies as part of the trial, which is the first to execute ‘out-of-sight’ flights between the mainland and the islands with an Uncrewed Aerial Vehicle (UAV).

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“This is part of our constant drive to incorporate the best and most innovative technologies into our network,” said Nick Landon, chief commercial officer at Royal Mail. “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.”

The government-funded project – developed in partnership with DronePrep, Skyports, Consortiq Limited, Southampton University, Excalibur Healthcare Services and Windracers Limited – will initially focus on delivering PPE and testing kits to the islands’ most vulnerable and remote communities. Windracers’ drone can accommodate mail of most shapes and sizes, allowing more general mail to be transported to the islands as part of the trial.

During trials parcels will be flown to the islands’ airport in St. Mary’s by a UK-built twin-engine Windracers ULTRA UAV, which can carry up to 100kg of mail, which Royal Mail said is equivalent to a typical delivery round. A smaller VTO drone, operated by Skyports, will then be used to transport items to delivery points throughout the islands.

The autonomous flight route that the UAV takes involves being roughly 70 miles out of sight before it reaches its destination.

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 across the UK.

“This project has proven the efficiency and robustness of ULTRA, with each round trip being 211km and being completed in less than two hours,” said Charles Scales, chief executive officer at Windracers. “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.”

In December 2020, 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.