British Airways owner flies autonomous drones inside freight warehouse

Key Points
  • When required, the drones used by IAG Cargo automatically fly back to charging stations.
  • As technology develops, the applications for drones are becoming increasingly diverse.
IAG Cargo

IAG Cargo, the cargo handling division of British Airways parent International Airlines Group, says it has carried out a trial of autonomous drone technology at a warehouse in the Spanish capital of Madrid.

In an announcement Wednesday, IAG Cargo said the technology had been "designed around the automation of freight checks" and that it would help to boost both the reliability and efficiency of operations.

A cargo business which serves more than 350 destinations globally, IAG Cargo employs over 2,400 people.

The trials were undertaken after IAG Cargo said it found that, on average, 6,500 hours per year were being spent recording the location data and barcodes of freight stored in its warehouses. They made use of technology from FlytBase, a start-up which specializes in drone software.

So far, two trials have been completed. Among other things, the tech enabled the drones to detect and read air waybills accurately and identify empty slot locations in the warehouse. An air waybill is a crucial document which contains key pieces of information related to a shipment.

When required, the drones used by IAG Cargo automatically fly back to charging stations to self-charge.

As technology develops, the applications for drones are becoming increasingly diverse.

In September, autonomous drone technology was used to deliver diabetes medication to a location off the west coast of Ireland. The contents of the delivery were insulin and glucagon, while the drone also collected a patient's blood sample.

The National University of Ireland in Galway said the drone's journey between Connemara Airport and Inis Mór, which is part of the Aran Islands, showed "the possibility of future deliveries of this kind within planned drone corridors."

In the energy sector, researchers in the U.K. have developed autonomous drones that can inspect offshore energy sites.

The drones were developed by the Offshore Robotics for the Certification of Assets Hub, a consortium of five universities working with partners from industry sectors such as energy and technology.