Drones will be used to deliver packages on remote Scottish islands – that, at least, is among the visions intimated by nine new freight projects which have been awarded £1.2 million in UK government funding.
The first winners of the Freight Innovation Fund (FIF), backed by £7 million overall, were announced on 11 April and, so the Department of Transport suggests, could help create cleaner, more innovative ways of delivering freight around the country. This could lead to reduced emissions, increased numbers of high-skilled jobs and better delivery services in hard-to-reach parts of the UK.
The winners include Skyports Deliveries, who will use drones to improve island-to-island connectivity in the Orkney Islands, and Electric Assisted Vehicles, who are developing a four-wheel, electrically assisted lightweight delivery vehicle to help reduce road emissions.
The fund is one part of the Government’s Future of Freight plan launched last year, “setting a strategy to work closely with industry to deliver a world-class freight system which supports economic growth, and builds on the measures already taken to tackle the global HGV driver shortage.”
The winning projects are led by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) who have designed innovative technology and who are partnered up with existing industry companies to explore the viability of these solutions in real-world conditions.
The 9 projects that have been awarded funding include:
- £150,000 for Skyports Deliveries Limited (project based in Orkney, Scotland and partnered with Royal Mail and Loganair): Improving logistics in ports and hard-to-reach areas through the Orkney I-Port project. It will create an intermodal transport hub to improve island-to-island connectivity using drones to make deliveries, conduct surveys and monitoring.
- £120,000 for CurbCargo (Based in London and partnered with Savills): Using data to track the environmental impact of freight deliveries, which will prompt companies to change how they order products to reduce vehicle movements.
- £119,000 for Lightricity Ltd (Based in Oxford and partnered with Bradford Swissport Limited): Using a unique, patented technology that harnesses the energy from indoor and low-level lightsources to power battery-free tracking devices. This will help companies realise the benefits of tracking devices without the cost challenges of battery change and sustainability impacts.
- £150,000 for Electric Assisted Vehicles Ltd (Based in Bicester, Oxfordshire and partnered with FedEx): Developing a four-wheel, electrically assisted lightweight delivery vehicle as an alternative to petrol and diesel vans.
- £145,000 for Otaski Energy Solutions Ltd and Syselek Ltd (Based in Gateshead and partnered with Costain): Trialling their cost and energy-efficient smart charge and bi-directional converter, which allows EVs to charge from any power grid source and discharge energy back to the grid or storage. This could help create an intelligent vehicle fleet charging system that increases grid reliability, resilience and stability and high adaptations to variable loads.
- £129,000 for CocoonFMS Ltd (Based in Lichfield, Staffordshire and partnered with Simarco Worldwide Logistics): Creating a digital calculator to provide automated management of port costs and shipping expenses, providing more accurate invoice information to users, reducing port delays and improving planning of deliveries.
- £145,000 for Entopy (Based in Suffolk and partnered with Fujitsu Services UK and Atamai Freight): Creating a digital twin of shipments to track them during their delivery, providing vital information and supporting greater use of digital products in the freight sector.
- £133,000 for RoboK Limited (Based in Cambridge and partnered with Port of Tyne): Trialling the use of their AI system to generate insights from existing video data, such as CCTV, to provide analysis on things like capacity and asset movement in real time to reduce costly delays and inefficiencies.
- £100,000 for Estudio Cactus (Based in London and in cooperation with Portsmouth International Port): Trialling the use of their health, safety, security and environment software to provide operators real-time information about their port to increase efficiency through improved resource management.
The winning SMEs will benefit from a freight innovation fund accelerator, which will provide bespoke business support to help them access private investment. They will also be invited to join a “freight innovation cluster”, a community of innovators which will hold events, encourage collaboration and generate new opportunities, and stimulate growth within the wider freight sector.
The Freight Innovation Fund aims to accelerate the adoption of existing freight technologies within the freight sector and develop a future pipeline in line with the freight industry’s real-world needs. It is a three-year £7 million programme designed to make delivering freight across the UK more efficient and cleaner.
The winning projects will support ideas and technology addressing three long-standing issues in the freight sector including:
- A lack of large-scale cross-industry data collection and sharing between different modes of freight transport, such as road, rail and maritime, could improve efficiencies and coordination.
- Difficulties in intermodal transport, such as between rail and road, and ways to improve how large consignments are broken up into smaller ones could reduce emissions and traffic.
- Improvements in freight distribution in ports across different transport modes could create knock-on benefits with timings, efficiencies, and predictability of the journey.
In 2022, the Government published its Future of Freight plan, described as the first-ever cross-modal and cross-government plan for the UK freight transport sector. Government launched the Freight Innovation Fund competition earlier this year in January which is delivered by Connected Places Catapult (CPC).
Nicola Yates OBE, CEO, at Connected Places Catapult said:
“The freight sector has an enormous opportunity to support jobs and growth across the UK which is why today we are pleased to welcome the nine SMEs to the first round of the Freight Innovation Fund Accelerator.
“Working with innovators and industry partners through our accelerator programme allows us to develop a pipeline of technology and new ideas that promise to help tackle the freight sector’s emerging needs, ensuring that resilience, efficiency and carbon reduction are core to the sector’s future.”
A statement from the Department of Transport said the Freight Innovation Fund “builds on previous government initiatives designed to support increased research and development in the freight industry.”