VIDEO: Drone start-up makes its first commercial delivery to ship

Written by Nick Blenkey
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Nicolas Ang, CEO of F-drones: “Besides being efficient, delivery drones can also reduce unnecessary human contact amid the COVID-19 pandemic.”Nicolas Ang, CEO of F-drones: “Besides being efficient, delivery drones can also reduce unnecessary human contact amid the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Singapore start-up F-drones completed the first commercial BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight) drone delivery to a ship in Singapore on April19. The drone delivered 2 kg of vitamins over 2.7 km in 7 minutes, to a ship managed by Eastern Pacific Shipping.

Eastern Pacific, one of the world’s largest privately-owned ship managers, is F-drones’ first paying customer.

In Singapore, as in most parts of the world, a BVLOS authorization or permit is required when operating drones beyond the visual range of drone pilots. Without such authorization, commercial drone delivery services would not be viable.

F-drones is the first company in Singapore to receive an authorization from the aviation authority, to conduct BVLOS drone deliveries to ships in Singapore. For now, this is limited to drone deliveries to ships anchored south of the marina area. This already is a significant milestone for both F-drones and Singapore, as globally, there are only a handful of companied that are operating commercial BVLOS drone deliveries. And F-drones is already working towards expanding their area of operations.

Started little more than a year ago, F-drones is a home-grown startup developing large-scale delivery drones which are fully electric and autonomous. Their goal is to eventually use their proprietary drones, which would be able to send 100kg loads over 100km to ships and offshore platforms. This would help alleviate the pain of sending supplies in marine & offshore applications, which rely on small boats and helicopters.

“These traditional means of transport are expensive, slow, labor and carbon intensive. F-drones’ solutions can help save up to 80% of the costs, time and CO2 emissions. Besides being efficient, delivery drones can also reduce unnecessary human contact amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Nicolas Ang, CEO of F-drones.

For now, F-drones is using an off-the-shelf drone that can only deliver 5 kg loads over 5 km.F-drones CTO, Yeshwanth Reddy, says this is “one of the best drones we can buy off the market”. He adds “as the marine and offshore industry requires much bigger loads to be sent over longer distances, F-drones is innovating on the aircraft at a systems-level.”

F-drones plans to complete the development of its 100 kg,100 km drone in the second half of 2021. Its latest prototype, which is its third, named as Hyperlaunch, would be able to deliver 5 kg loads over 50 km to ships. F-drones will be starting commercial operations using Hyperlaunch towards the end of 2020, after more tests and improvements. Hyperlaunch in itself is already an attractive product for the shipping industry.

Gil Ofer, the Head of Open Innovation at Eastern Pacific Shipping, says, “EPS has been part of F-drones’ test deliveries since November 2019, when they joined the Eastern Pacific Accelerator powered by Techstars. We believe their solutions will play a significant role in reducing shipping’s overall carbon footprint. The successful BVLOS delivery is a milestone event, and we are extremely proud to be part of their journey.”

F-drones is also working with product tanker operator Hafnia.

Shanker Pillai, Head of Innovation & Change at Hafnia, says, “We are excited to work with F-drones to develop drone technology with the aim to conduct remote delivery of small packages and emergency deliveries to vessels. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, drones can potentially help to reduce human contact during deliveries. We are glad to be part of this development and are looking forward to the first commercial drone deliveries to our vessels.”

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