IAG Cargo has spent most of the last 18 months trialing autonomous drone technology in its Madrid warehouse, Carly Morris, head of innovation at IAG Cargo, told Air Cargo World this week. The successful trials established IAG Cargo’s ability to use drones for autonomous navigation across multiple racks, accurate scanning of air waybills and identification of empty slot locations within the warehouse.
The autonomous drone trial was launched to improve inventory management efficiency, Morris said. “We found that we were spending on average 6,500 hours every year recording the bar codes for air waybills of our freight and the location of freight in our warehouse, so we looked at the possibility of using drones to do this process for us,” she explained. She added that the trials have been successful, with the drones “accurately detecting and reading air waybills and also performing all of the safety features that we need it to perform, so obstacle detection, obstacle avoidance and usability as well, as a product.” In addition to its inventory warehouse tasks, the drone trials established the drones are also able to return automatically to charging docks for self-charging.
While the trials so far have been successful, Morris said IAG Cargo will continue testing elements of the drone operation in 2020 to make further improvements to the autonomous drone functions.
The drones used by IAG Cargo are off-the-shelf DJI Mavic drones, Morris said, with the only physical modification being a charging pad attachment used for autonomous charging. The cargo-specific modification is the software used by the drones, created by drone software startup FlytBase, which “allows the drone to fly autonomously, allows it to complete the missions that we tell it to, and read the barcode accurately,” Morris said.
See below for video footage from the drone trial, provided by IAG Cargo.