BMT, an international design, engineering, science, and risk management consultancy, announced it has been granted a patent by the U.K. Intellectual Property Office for a  concept called ‘SPARROW’, an autonomous ‘air-ground payload transfer device’ for drone delivery applications.

Phil Metcalfe, Regional Business Director for UK and Europe, commented: “BMT’s patent signals a new type of suspended robotic device: a device that takes over responsibility for the final moments of payload delivery, and better suited to challenging and sensitive environments. This small, highly-ruggedised robotic device could even autonomously collect packages as well as deliver them without the need for infrastructure on the ground. With the development of this autonomous and highly-versatile concept the project team have delivered a great example of how BMT actively applies its innovation to solve its customers’ complex problems,” added Metcalfe. “Further, we were super excited to participate in the British Army’s “Army Warfighting Experiment” (AWE) 23, with our rugged technology demonstrating the potential to feed into the army’s plans for a future ‘digital backbone.”

This month, the AWE 23 independent Product Assessment Report cited the following: “As the system is developed further, it will provide a capability unlike anything else known to Defence. It would enable the use of UAS to deliver payloads in the most challenging terrain, reducing risk to both the airframe, the payload and personnel on the ground.”

With SPARROW, BMT has addressed the inherent problem of large, noisy, and potentially hazardous delivery drones having to land or hover low over the payload destination, potentially close to people in unpredictable, sensitive and cluttered environments.

SPARROW is fundamentally different to winch systems commonly used in current trials for delivery drones. On a winch, the payload swinging at the bottom end of a line is raised or lowered by the cable drum attached to the underside of the fuselage, and moved horizontally by subtle movements of the drone above. This provides poor control of the payload, especially in windy conditions and limits the maximum height of the drone. In comparison, SPARROW is located at the bottom end of the line with the payload with its own power, sensors and actuators; it has autonomous control of its descent using an internal drum, while making precise and immediate horizontal adjustments to counter wind effects using four small, quiet pusher fans. SPARROW takes responsibility of the delivery allowing the larger delivery drone to remain much, much higher at the destination, relatively unheard and unobtrusive at ground level.

Being much smaller than the drone and without the need for powerful, lift-generating rotors, SPARROW is perfect for safe, precise and quiet delivery in challenging or sensitive environments.

BMT’s development partner, Dr Steve Wright from Wright Airborne Computing, commented: “During 30 years of working in aerospace, I have not seen anything like the surge in new aircraft, systems, and applications that has happened in the last five years. SPARROW is a perfect example of this revolution, fuelled by a happy convergence of 21st century technologies harnessed together by computers and software that engineers like me could only dream about 30 years ago.”

Asia Pacific Defence Reporter

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