World’s Biggest Ship Gets Small Parts Delivery – By Drone

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On May 22, the port of Rotterdam was able to celebrate a first for the Netherlands: an unmanned aerial drone delivery of parts to a merchant vessel. In the pilot experiment, a sandwich-sized computer network switch was delivered by drone to Allseas’ Pioneering Spirit, the largest vessel by displacement in the world. Pioneering Spirit is currently moored at Alexiahaven, Rotterdam in preparation for her next project.

The pilot was set up by Dutch Drone Delta, Allseas and the Port of Rotterdam Authority, and it is intended to determine whether and how drone deliveries could increase transport efficiency in the port area. Rotterdam is positioning itself as “the safest port to fly,” and it says that it is monitoring its airspace so that third parties can use UAV technology to make the port more efficient.

New European regulations have cleared the way for new UAV applications. The participants say that the Pioneering Spirit delivery is a significant step in the process towards unmanned aerial cargo transport, since it involved the delivery of an actual package via long-distance flight by the UAV. In this case, the delivery was directly monitored by human observers, but in the near future it will be handled entirely beyond the pilot’s physical line of sight, the port said. 

“Utilizing new technologies allows us to make our port smarter, more streamlined, more efficient and safer. The current pilot project is a prime example: it makes a significant contribution to more efficient transport in general; and in due time, it will specifically help to reduce the pressure on our road network,” said Port of Rotterdam adviser Ingrid Römers. “The results of this pilot project can also serve as input for the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management when it drafts the required legislation and regulations.”

Stephan van Vuren, a member of the Dutch Drone Delta initiative, said that drone services in the port area could help with multiple tasks, including incident prevention and control, firefighting, routine monitoring, infrastructure inspections, and deliveries to ships and oil rigs. “And in the longer term, we may even be seeing heavy freight deliveries and passenger transport,” says van Vuren. 

For the offshore sector, drone operations could supplement traditional means like helicopter deliveries. “Drone delivery can be of added value when we are in urgent need of parts which we can’t repair ourselves – for example network switches or computer chips,” said Allseas spokesperson Jeroen Hagelstein. 

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