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Cargo Transportation takes drone technologies to the next level.

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08-04-2020
Cargo Transportation takes drone technologies to the next level.
David Willems
VP Business Development
and Strategy.

 

Cargo transportation is as old as time. Throughout the centuries we have seen a wide range of freight transportation come and go, ranging from horse-drawn wagons to aeroplanes and helicopters.

For many years, goods travelled to their destinations using horse drawn wagons, which were very slow and often dangerous for the people driving them. Later, with the introduction of the railway system, freight could be delivered to destinations further away in a faster, safer way. However, there were still limitations as railways only covered a certain part of the country, and different modes of transport were still required to ensure the freight reached its final destination. Next came the road transport revolution, with cars, vans and trucks transporting goods from depot to depot, or point-to-point.

Internationally, before the introduction of the steamboat in the early nineteenth century, many types of goods were moved by flatboat or raft. However, these methods were both risky and time consuming due to members of the crew having to paddle the rafts between destinations. The invention of the steamboat sped up the delivery of goods, with more modern inventions including ships transporting heavy machinery and other cargo.

In the twentieth century, along came the airplane which brought with it a wider set of options for freight transportation. Over the years, new innovations led to the development of the jet, alongside larger airplanes, which could transport everything from people to large animals, commercial goods such as furniture, cars and certain types of machinery. Delivering cargo by airplanes and jets proved to be both fast and efficient, and for businesses, increased productivity significantly.

For smaller deliveries, the twentieth century also brought with it the invention of helicopters. Helicopters offer a convenient, timely method for sending important freight to destinations including islands, offshore oilrigs, mountain resorts, remote construction sites and other such smaller locations.

 

Enter the drones!

In the military and maritime domains, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are increasing in popularity as organisations realise the benefits they can bring, from the use of heavy fuels like our SKELDAR V-200 to reduced logistical footprints and ease of maintenance. However, in the civilian space, many industries are still largely unaware of the applications UAVs can complete.

This is changing. In 2019 alone, the civil UAV market had a global volume of about $5.5 bn, and the market for production and services applications is forecasted to grow at around 11% per annum over the next five to six years, largely driven by the infrastructure sector[1].

Today, the civil UAV market can largely be split into three categories: infrastructure inspection and maintenance, environment inspections and maintenance, and transportation and leisure (see graphic above)[2]. If we take the energy sector as a prime example of how UAVs are assisting, we can immediately see why they are increasing in use. A highly complex sector, the oil and gas industry incorporates asset management, environmental compliance and safety, which all must be addressed and guaranteed. For example, many organisations have invested heavily in deploying large oil pipeline infrastructure across an expansive geographic network, spanning countries and continents. This creates a need for activities such as oil and gas exploration, inspection and monitoring of pipelines. Pipelines must be routinely inspected to not only ensure its structural integrity for continuing safe operations, but also to monitor for intruders and other potential trespassers.

 

The same can be said for oil fields out at sea. Traditionally, inspections have been completed by deploying teams of personnel. However, these types of examinations often entail high risk situations and very lengthy journeys requiring each team member to spend a long time in the field. In addition, they can be very expensive; for example, aerial inspection of pipelines using manned helicopters costs usually north of $3,000 for one hour (Kroetsch, 2013)[3].

Today, oil and gas organisations are beginning to deploy UAVs as they move towards non-conventional sources and more challenging environments. This is due to the requirement to ensure round the clock vigilance, a priority in any strategic asset protection plan.

 

Overall, the key benefits include:

  • Providing a quick overview and evaluation of difficult to reach areas;
  • Preventive maintenance planning and optimised production keeping costs on the low side;
  • Access to locations that pose health, safety and environmental risk to personnel;
  • Real-time data transmission;
  • Fast on-site deployment of UAV platforms such as the SKELDAR V-150;
  • Authorised and qualified UAV-inspection personnel;
  • Reduced downtime increases overall efficiency.

 

New applications

As you would expect, new applications for UAVs are consistently coming online, for example the supply of medical goods. For this industry, fast and reliable transportation of medical goods such as blood, vaccines, snake bite serum and other medical supplies can be the difference between life and death, especially in more rural areas. In some instances, medical goods can be ordered via mobile phones, with the UAV being launched within ten minutes, therefore providing a life-saving alternative to slower overland journeys.

Further innovations in this area are also being researched. Ship-to-shore UAV deliveries are being investigated, whereby medical supplies and water are delivered to those that require them during disaster situations. In this situation, the UAV can be used to carry medical samples for emergency testing, flying them between an onshore medical relief camp and a test facility on a ship. With Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) such as our V-150, it is possible to land vertically unlike fixed wings, providing the added advantage of not only an efficient landing, but a reduced logistical footprint which also saves space.

The global healthcare community is continually looking for new ways to deliver medical supplies and protect their people. For example, in third world countries, many villages are hard to reach by road and residents cannot travel to hospitals due to distance or remoteness. UAVs could provide the necessary medical supplies in a quick and efficient manner, therefore saving more lives than is possible using more conventional transportation methods.

About our V-150 UAV

The SKELDAR V-150 is a fully automated high-performance RPAS designed to support tactical operations from oil and gas infrastructure monitoring to the delivery of medical supplies.

This ITAR-free Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) includes an ability to carry multiple payloads across two payload bays (up to 30kg in the main bay and up to 12kg in the nose). It has an endurance that will soon reach 4 hours thanks to modifications already being worked on. In addition, the V-150 will operate on a turbine engine propulsion system that uses heavy fuels, making it perfect for maritime and land-based missions alike.

The V-150’s modular design enables a high degree of maintainability alongside a minimum turn-around time during operations, and it has a small logistical footprint ideal for storing in small hangars.

 

The future

The use of UAVs, especially VTOLs, will continue to increase, not only in the military and maritime sectors, but also across the civilian space as more organisations realise the benefits they can bring, especially in delivering cargo. With an ability to fly for longer than ever before, and in reaching hard to access areas, the future is almost endless in terms of what UAVs can achieve. Watch this space.

 

 

[1] https://www.rolandberger.com/en/Point-of-View/Cargo-drones-The-future-of-parcel-delivery.html

[2] https://www.rolandberger.com/en/Point-of-View/Cargo-drones-The-future-of-parcel-delivery.html

[3] https://www.abdn.ac.uk/geosciences/documents/UAV_Report_Redwing_Final_Appendix_Update.pdf