Thursday, March 31, 2016

Game of Drones - The Express Freight Delivery System Finally Takes the Logistics Biscuit

After Pouring Scorn on Ridiculous Claims for UAVs Finally Niche Markets Emerge
Shipping News Feature
WORLDWIDE – After a couple of years aiming barbs at those who claimed drones would be the express freight delivery man’s dream (a patently ridiculous claim) we note that after our previous story, which established there is in fact a place for the unmanned flying machines, further niche sectors are beginning to appear to aid in logistics related matters, even if some, like the delivery of a box of cookies to a ship at sea, might seem a little bizarre at first.

We have written one or two articles pouring scorn on others who predicted the city skies filled with iPhone deliveries and the like, rather than the more normal cargoes of illicit drugs flying across national borders, but now more logical uses for the mechanical mosquitos are starting to emerge.

The sorry tale of the US Highway Trust Fund, which has seen the American transport infrastructure literally fall apart for lack of funds, will be well known to regular readers. The latest complaint is the terrible state of the roads meaning the failure of testing for autonomous vehicles and one of the major talking points is the parlous state of the thousands of bridges throughout the system which need, but rarely get, surveys and repairs.

Now a report from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) confirms that drones are an ideal tool for monitoring those hard to reach areas and, like those rail yard inspection drones we wrote about in the last article, they do the job much faster than a man on foot – especially one trying to dodge traffic.

The AASHTO report follows a report by the Minnesota Department of Transportation last year which concluded more work was needed to perfect the drone type, particularly with regard to camera angles, but that the systems was definitely a money and time saver. When operated under sensible safety regulations it was found to have a low risk factor both to operator and the general public. The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) confirmed that in the years 2010 – 2014 in regards to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) no fatalities or even injuries were reported, and in addition no property damage was reported other than to the drones themselves.

AASHTO found that a further sixteen states had already explored the advantages of the technology whilst sixteen more were considering their own programmes. For example the Michigan State Department of Transportation (MDOT) will now embark on phase 2 of a programme to use drones in which phase 1 showed that the unmanned craft proved a ‘safe, reliable and cost-effective way to monitor traffic flows, obtain photos from inside confined spaces and gather data on bridge conditions’. Costs for a typical inspection dropped from over $4,500 to a mere $250. Project manager Steven J Cook commented:

“Our first study looked at the viability of UAVs and what we found out is that the unmanned aerial vehicle provided a mechanism to keep our workers out of harm’s way. A traditional bridge inspection for example typically involves setting up work zones, detouring traffic and using heavy equipment. The UAV’s can get in and get out quickly, capturing data in near real-time and causing less distraction and inconvenience to drivers.”

One company certainly not given to flights of fancy or PR stunts is Maersk Tankers and yet the company has just used a drone to deliver a box of cookies! Earlier this month, on a foggy Danish morning came the sight of a buzzing machine passing through the mist to test the concept that the drone could prove useful in an environment where the tiniest spark could have devastating consequences.

It is frequently the case that vessels such as the Maersk Edgar, the target for the flying biscuits, need vital stores, parts, medical supplies at the very time or place when or where docking is impractical. A barge in such circumstances can cost in excess of $1,000 and drone use has the potential to save several such trips every year at a very minimal cost.

Drones are now being tested for inspections across the Maersk Group. Maersk Oil is using them for installations in the North Sea and APM Terminals for cranes in its ports. Once a suitably ATEX approved drone is available, Maersk Tankers could avoid the costs and time for washing, gas-freeing and re-inerting during a cargo tank inspection. Drones could increase the quality of inspecting challenging areas and with high quality images, meaning cracks can be identified faster. With the latest models having an ability to stay in the air for over an hour they could even carry out piracy look-out duties in high-risk transit areas.

You can watch the Maersk Edgar receive her cookie box HERE.