Ordnance Survey helps fledgling drone companies take flight during pandemic

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Lockdown life has been characterised by a shift towards more online shopping and with it a surge for home deliveries and increased logistics, with more companies offering same day and next day delivery services just to keep up with demand.

Many delivery firms rely on location data to get them to the right house for their parcels and deliveries and for those who see drone deliveries as the future, there is far more detail to consider than just arriving at the right house. They need to know everything from where the drone can land to which flight paths must be taken. Ordnance Survey location data is the enabler behind much of this.

With Barclays Investment Bank estimating in 2019 that the worldwide drone delivery market could grow to be worth $40 billion by 2023, its significance is impossible to ignore. OS has been working with organisations in the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) industry to provide accurate mapping as they look to navigate Britain’s skies.

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DronePrep

DronePrep was designed as a digital map to show suitable locations for drone use across Great Britain with the intention to bring drone pilots and landowners together under one platform.

Landowners can register and mark whether their land was open for drone flights, while drone pilots and hobbyists can sign up to identify places to fly their drones.

During the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, it became clear the DronePrep platform could be used to facilitate drone deliveries for business purposes, using OS data to define exact landing points.

The NHS needed essential PPE and health equipment to arrive at medical centres and remote areas quickly and the first medical supply drone deliveries took place in March 2020 between Southampton and the Isle of Wight. Following this, an air corridor was identified between the Scilly Isles and Cornwall to ensure supplies could be delivered by UAV.

Droneprep began relying on OS’s location data to understand environments for flights, including addresses, roads, green spaces and foreshores. This led to DronePrep working with Royal Mail, Skyports and What3Words on a pilot project for the Isle of Mull, with Royal Mail becoming the first UK parcel carrier to use a drone to deliver a parcel.

Claire Owen, Co-founder DronePrep said: “Once you start working with OS data, you realise how powerful it is. The level of detail from OS Open Zoomstack is incredible. There are many useful layers that give powerful insight to our customers, both drone pilots and landowners. DronePrep members now have visibility not just on location but on the surrounding environment too and how this impacts low level airspace which is crucial for flight planning.”

Addresscloud – LandSafe

OS data has been instrumental in helping Addresscloud work towards creating a national database of suitable landing sites for UAVs. Its new database LandSafe has been designed around every address in Great Britain. Users can type any address into the LandSafe database to see if a drone can be landed at a property.

It solves logistical problems which often blight the last mile of a delivery drivers’ journey by road, such as when they cannot locate the correct door or entrance to drop off a package. These issues can account for 50% of the cost of a journey. LandSafe’s alternative is to provide co-ordinates for a safe landing spot for UAVs.

Addresscloud’s geocoding service uses OS data to provide roof-top level accuracy for customers. The aim is to make the database feasible for consumer deliveries, emergency responses and health care providers.

A trial study area was chosen in North Leeds, where Addresscloud is testing its algorithm to identify potential landing sites to verify they are safe. This includes checking landing sites are free from aerial obstructions such as masts and pylons, outside restricted airspace, and whether there is water or vegetation making an area unsuitable for landing (UAVs need a clear area two to three times larger than the drone itself). Early results demonstrated that 70% of addresses in the study area were suitable for delivery via UAVs.

Addresscloud’s CEO Mark Varley said: “LandSafe is a really exciting development in the use of UAVs for logistics. By linking every address with a landing suitability score, businesses and the public sector, will be able to safely and effectively plan last-mile deliveries using UAVs nationwide.

“Addresscloud is a market leader in geocoding and property intelligence, and this innovative project extends our capabilities to support our logistics customers in their use of UAVs to optimise last-mile deliveries, reduce road congestion and cut vehicle emissions.”

Flock

Ordnance Survey has continuously supported Flock, the pay-as-you-fly drone insurance provider, since its successful launch in the UK in 2018. Drone pilots working for the film and photography industry, surveyors and inspections, agriculture, air taxis, cargo deliveries and hobbyists, have all used Flock for commercial drone insurance.

Flock’s algorithm uses geospatial data to make risk assessments of potential drone flights. Its software analyses a whole raft of data, including traffic flows, weather patterns and mobile data, to provide operators with the safest flight path to avoid any mishaps.

Flock’s Sam Golden said: “During the first lockdown, we saw a sharp decline in users of our hourly pay-as-you-fly insurance policies. However, as restrictions began to lift, we saw huge growth in users across every category. This was everyone from new pilots getting into commercial drone operations for the first time to our largest fleets adding additional drones to their policy after winning new contracts.

“Drone deliveries have definitely played a part in this. Two of Flock’s customers Windracers and Skyports who have worked with the NHS to launch drone delivery trials throughout the latest lockdowns.

“The other factor that played a part is the increased use of drones in the surveying of widely distributed assets (such as oil rigs or wind turbines). Traditionally helicopters and boats would be used for this but social distancing restrictions meant drones were often a better option.”

OS’s Partner Engagement Lead, Stefan Wells said: “For years OS data has accurately mapped every feature and address in the country, supporting delivery drivers making sure that houses get parcels. Now our data is helping drone pilots to deliver parcels from the air. It’s no longer just about the traditional road map, it’s also about air corridors and safe landing sites.

“As ever location is key. We are always looking at how OS data can support new and emerging technologies and markets. With our data more accessible and easier than ever before, we would urge anyone in the logistics and drone industry to visit our OS Datahub to see how our precise location data can assist with their business.”

Tags : DronePrepFlockOrdnance SurveyOS
Joe Peskett

The author Joe Peskett

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