Wilhelmsen to Trial Shore-to-Ship Drone Delivery in Singapore

shore-to-ship drone delivery
Photo: Wilhelmsen / Airbus

Global ships agency Wilhelmsen is teaming up to aeronautics company Airbus to bring shore-to-ship drone delivery to Port of Singapore.

The new service, called Agency by Air, is set to launch at Singapore port’s Marina South Pier in the third quarter of 2018, where Wilhelmsen Ships Service and Airbus will be piloting the delivery of spare parts, documents, water test kits and 3D printed consumables via Airbus’ Skyways unmanned air system (UAS) to vessels at anchorage.

With the signing of an MOU at maritime trade show Posidonia, the Maritime UAS project agreement covers a joint ambition to establish a framework for cooperation between the two partners, with the aim of investigating the potential deployment and commercialization of UAS for maritime deliveries use cases.

Wilhelmsen first announced plans for a large-scale pilot program exploring the use of drones to deliver vital supplies to ships in March 2017. WSS described the project as a potentially seismic shift in the way ships agents can support their customers by eliminating the need for launch boats to deliver essentials to vessels at anchorage, along with cutting delivery times. 

WSS now says it believes that unmanned autonomous drone deliveries enable a reduction in manpower and increased productivity compared to launch boat deliveries, with up to 6X quicker response rate and turnaround time and the potential to lower shore-to-ship delivery costs by up to 90%.

The project with Airbus will mark the first time the viability of autonomous drone delivery to vessels has been put to the test in real-world port conditions.

Marius Johansen, VP of Commercial at Wilhelmsen Ships Service, says he is confident with Airbus now on board, Wilhelmsen’s long-term drone delivery aspirations will be fulfilled.

“We are absolutely thrilled to be working with a forward-thinking, industry leader like Airbus. When we announced last year that we were pursuing drone delivery, we were greeted with a fair amount of skepticism, but our collaboration with Airbus, shows we really do mean business,” said Johansen.

Johansen says he also believes that drones will become a game changer in the agency and logistics business in the not too distant future.

“As an outward-looking company, eager to utilize technology to help improve our customers’ experiences, drone delivery is a perfect fit for our agency business,” added Johansen. “Part of our standard husbandry services, we organize the delivery of essential spares, medical supplies and cash to master via launch boat day in and day out all over the world. However, delivery by drone is much more cost effective, quicker, and frankly safer for all involved. Costing on average ninety percent less than launch boats, they importantly remove the risks inherently involved with making launch deliveries and also have negligible environmental impact.”

Culminating from over a year of planning and close collaboration between Wilhelmsen Ships Service and Airbus, involving the Singapore Maritime Port Authority and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, the partnership will first see an initial two-week pilot trial with deliveries to ships anchored in Singapore’s eastern anchorage.

A command and delivery center will be set up at the pier to facilitate the deliveries, with an initial range of up to 3km from the shore. A second delivery station will be positioned at an open space in Marina South to extend delivery coverage to more anchorage vessels.

With Wilhelmsen Ships Service tasked with setting up the necessary maritime and port operations, gaining the relevant approvals from port authorities and securing maritime customers, Airbus will take care of all the corresponding aviation approvals, and the running and maintenance of the UAS and its control systems.

Commenting on their partnership, Airbus’ Skyways lead Leo Jeoh said, “This collaboration with Wilhelmsen, the first of its kind in the region, gives us a unique test bed where we can trial, refine and shape the future of shore-to-ship drone technologies. This also serves as an exciting opportunity to bring together the strong domain expertise of both Airbus and Wilhelmsen, to pioneer the future of UAS in the maritime industry.”