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We Already Have Delivery Drones, Are We Ready for Autonomous Delivery Boats?

RAD Propulsion delivery prototype
The RAD Propulsion delivery prototype

A recent development in the UK has opened the possibility of autonomous delivery boats in the near future.

'Uber Eats for Boats' is already being trialed, but has thus far been hampered by its ability to deliver only to docks. By adding the capability of autonomous boats, boaters who are anchored offshore could enjoy the perks of a fast-paced supply delivery wherever they are.

In an article in Marine Industry News UK, a total of 41 winning projects recently won grants during the annual Transport Research and Innovation Grant (TRIG) competition.

The funds, which total £1.8 million (2.26 million USD), are to support the development of new technology in the transportation industry. The grants are issued for all forms of transportation, including marine concepts.

One of the recent TRIG winners was RAD Propulsion, a UK startup who builds electric drives and battery systems for boats. Their unique autonomous boat concept could represent the marine equivalent of companies like Amazon and UPS, who are gaining mainstream acceptance with terrestrial delivery. For example, the latest Amazon MK30 delivery drone is expected to being trials across the United States later this year, while the FAA also recently cleared UPS to begin testing long-distance deliveries by drone.

“We’re at the dawn of a new age for transport – AI can now help tackle universal challenges like station overcrowding or road congestion by using our historic waterways to deliver parcels by self-driving boat,” says decarbonisation, aviation and technology minister, Anthony Browne, according to Marine Industry News UK.

RAD Propulsion builds electric propulsion drives and battery systems for boats. Their RAD40 electric drive resembles a typical gas-powered outboard, but with a smaller frame and overall size, including an impressive 40kW of continuous power, or roughly 55 horsepower.

RAD40 electric drive
The RAD40 electric drive

“We’re proud to announce we have been awarded a Transport Research and Innovation Grant (TRIG) to improve delivery services using waterways,” a RAD Propulsion spokesperson said in a statement.

“With road congestion at an all-time high, exacerbated by the demand for parcel deliveries due to the popularity of online shopping, we saw an opportunity to use our technology to make a positive impact on the environment.”

So, how would such a concept work for boaters?

Well, the only similar example thus far is being tested in the Caribbean by a company called Appel A Tous (now named Paradise Foods). They have a mobile app that allows boaters to place a food order that is delivered to them directly at their dock or marina. The only hang-up, of course, is that the delivery can't extend beyond the mainland to those anchored offshore or who can’t enter shallow water (i.e., yachts or superyachts).

boat delivery
A delivery by Appel A Tous in the Caribbean

But, thanks to the potential of an autonomous delivery drone like the one being developed by RAD Propulsion, we could see the introduction of drone deliveries over open water, the same way we enjoy quick deliveries on land from companies like Amazon and UPS.

The concept could also easily extend beyond food to include other boating essentials like fuel, water, first aid, or safety and rescue equipment.

RAD Propulsion’s ‘RADBus’ drone concept may represent the proverbial first step.

“Our RADBus architecture developed for the RAD 40 electric drive will support an on-the-water prototype for the ‘last blue mile’ robotic delivery solution, completing the final stage of the delivery process through an automated, clean, electric marine system. This project will demonstrate how smart use of the waterways in many inland and coastal areas could make a real difference to road traffic and air pollution.”

The future is here.

You can see some of RAD Propulsion's current marine concepts in action in the video below:

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