It's a bird… it's a plane… it's the postman

It's a bird… it's a plane… it's the postman
View from the SingPost drone during its successful delivery trial on Sep 25.
PHOTO: SingPost

Your postman could one day be a drone. Last month, Singapore Post completed an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) delivery trial, touted as the world's first successful test by a postal service provider.

The trial, which took place on Sept 25, involved an off-the-shelf drone system customised by engineers from SingPost and the government-backed Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) Labs.

It flew 2km, between Lorong Halus and Pulau Ubin, carrying a letter and T-shirt in a packet.

The drone prototype has safety features designed for dense urban areas. It can carry up to 500g, and fly at a height of up to 45m.

Its delivery route can be controlled by an in-house smartphone app, complete with verification features, to ensure that the mail reaches its intended recipient.

"There is immense potential in UAV technology for last-mile mail and e-commerce delivery," said Dr Bernard Leong, head of digital services at SingPost. For instance, delivery times can be shortened as the flight paths can be more direct than road delivery routes, he said.

Since US e-commerce giant Amazon's announcement last year of a potential drone-based delivery service, consumers have been excited about this possibility. But obstacles remain. SingPost, for instance, could not project when drone delivery would become the norm. Common challenges include safety concerns, weight limits, distance limits and weather restrictions.

"Although it will be a while before it is viable for drone mail delivery to take off in Singapore... this first step by SingPost and IDA demonstrates what Singapore is trying out with our smart nation vision," said IDA managing director Jacqueline Poh.

She said the vision is to have various parts of Singapore's ecosystem collaborating and experimenting with new ways of doing things.

SingPost received the green light from the Ministry of Transport, Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, the Republic of Singapore Air Force and the Singapore Police Force for its first drone trial.

Last month, the Finnish postal service also trialled the use of drones to deliver packages although its test drone landed away from the designated landing zone.

Republic Polytechnic lecturer Sasidharan Nair, who teaches a course on drone videography, said a drone would be handy for reaching offshore islands such as Sentosa or Pulau Ubin.

"Other instances where drones can come in handy include medical emergencies, search and rescue missions and disaster management," he said.

This article was first published on October 9, 2015.
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