UK looks to future of freight with drone scheme and EV enhancement

Drones will be used to deliver packages on remote Scottish islands as part of nine new innovative freight projects which have been awarded over £1 million in government funding.

The first winners of the Freight Innovation Fund (FIF), backed by £7 million overall, have been announced today and 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, which will use drones to improve island-to-island connectivity in the Orkney Islands, and Electric Assisted Vehicles, which is developing a 4-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.

Roads minister Richard Holden said: “Whether it’s drones for deliveries on remote islands or zero emission buggies – we want to invest in future technology that could transform how we move goods around the country while reducing emissions and traffic and creating skilled jobs.

“The Freight Innovation Fund gives innovators the opportunity to test their ideas and help our freight industry become greener and more efficient – unlocking better connectivity and boosting growth across the country.”

The winning projects are led by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that have designed innovative technology and are partnered with existing industry companies to explore the viability of these solutions in real-world conditions.

The nine projects that have been awarded funding 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 that 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 3-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 longstanding 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 UK government published the Future of Freight plan, the first-ever cross-modal and cross-government plan for the UK freight transport sector.

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.”