A pilot demonstration for a set of innovative drone and electric van freight trials was successfully completed at Milton Park, a science, technology and business community in Oxfordshire. The trials mark a significant step in the transition towards highly sustainable mobility systems.

The initiative, planned and overseen by Oxfordshire County Council, is part of the HARMONY project, testing low-carbon transportation as well as the integration of new mobility technologies with existing systems. Support was provided by academic partner, University College London, and organisations from the Harmony consortium such as RUAS, who managed the trial operation by providing and flying the drones, and Airbus through its Unmanned Traffic Management platform (UTM).

The Harmony consortium has planned a total of three pilot demonstrations, taking place in Oxfordshire, Rotterdam and Trikala. Their overall objective is to demonstrate electric automated vehicles (AVs) and drones in real-life conditions integrating them with traditional transport modes to understand the requirements, reactions and barriers and collect real-world data. The project received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme.

The pioneering combination of technologies used throughout these demonstrations mean they are the first of their kind, looking to advance mobility sustainability by reducing emissions, congestion and noise levels.

The trials at Milton Park, which included the use of an electric van provided by Oxfordshire County Council, and the delivery of a defibrillator, successfully highlighted that the mobility technologies tested enabled increased efficiency and speed of freight delivery.

Oxfordshire has one of the most sophisticated road traffic control centres in the UK and Milton Park was selected as the ideal location for the trials as it could offer a safe and controlled environment for innovative exercises. The Park proved to be a robust testing ground as the drone navigated airspace over the main roads and nearby railway, permitted by Network Rail, while also manoeuvring around buildings and green spaces.

Councillor Pete Sudbury, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Climate Change Delivery and Environment, said:

“Innovative zero-carbon-ready transport is set to make a huge impact, it just needs us to demonstrate how. Hence this trial, which is another example of our close working with our world leading universities, of which we are extremely proud. As a council, we’re already doing high profile work to help everyone reduce their individual emissions footprint and this is how we’re looking to decarbonise the rest.”

Veronica Reynolds, Sustainability and Community Manager at Milton Park, said:

“It was a real privilege for Milton Park to be chosen as the location for these cutting-edge trials in drone technology and we’re grateful for the chance to collaborate with the other consortium partners on such an exciting project.

“The benefits from this innovative technology are clear to see, particularly from a sustainability point of view, as it could ultimately lead to fewer vehicles spending less time on the roads and a reduction in carbon emissions.”