Meet the innovator creating community friendly drone ports

David Majoe hopes to automate the transfer of goods between drones and customers with the help of Connected Places Catapult, and make take-off and landing sites convenient and attractive places for local people to visit.

“If you are serious about drone operations, you have to think about logistics on the ground,” says David Majoe, a co-founder of start-up tech company Inteliports. “There has been a massive focus up until now on being able to fly drones, but it is also important to consider how and where they land.”

David and fellow company directors Dennis Majoe (his father) and David Park have created a mobile take-off and landing platform for drones that is small enough to fit in the back of a truck and be towed to wherever it is needed.

The infrastructure is designed to service delivery drones taking off and coming in to land, through the use of highly specialised autonomous ground vehicles – also being developed by the firm – to deliver parcels to and collect goods from the drones, as well as store and charge the drones. In time, it is hoped that the mobile platform could be scaled up.

Inteliports is one of nine technology firms that recently took part in the second Future of Air Mobility Accelerator programme, delivered by Connected Places Catapult, and received £30,000 to support the development of a prototype of its mobile port. The company also presented at the recent South Summit in South America alongside other UK technology firms.

“Being on the Accelerator was a fantastic experience and helped us to grow the business and begin trials. The Catapult also acted as a sounding board: questioning how we do things in commercial environments so we could tweak our offer to make it better. We hope to develop our first commercial operation next year.”
David Majoe, co-founder of Inteliports

Taking people out of the equation

A central aim of the mobile infrastructure port is to remove human interactions with the drones. “We want to keep people as far away as possible, in order to reduce safety risk and make the process more efficient,” David explains. “We will be able to store and charge the drones, place them on a take off zone, attach the payload and send them off without human labour being part of the equation.”

Inteliports’ ground stations would effectively serve as ‘click and collect’ and parcel drop-off points for drone deliveries; with vans, cycle couriers or members of the public arriving to either deposit or retrieve their packages – without getting too close to the drones themselves. Placing ground infrastructure at popular locations could also help to create ‘air corridors’ between key sites.

Widespread use of drones for parcel delivery would clearly reduce the need for conventional road-based vehicles driving freight from a to b. But installing ground infrastructure would also, David adds, create more certainty around where drones operate, helping to avoid “totally open skies where drones are flying everywhere”.

He adds that rural settings offer the greatest potential for drone deliveries in the coming years, especially where large expanses of water or challenging terrain are not easily negotiated by lorries or freight trains. “We hope to offer same day deliveries at an attractive price to more customers in remote locations.”

Growing up around technology

David Majoe insists that getting involved in future flight systems was not always his plan. Growing up he always wanted to become an architect, studying the subject at Bath University before completing a Masters degree at University College London. But because his father was an electronics engineer, David always found himself surrounded by the latest technology and was interested in how innovation can be integrated into the built environment.

“When I was very young, I would be soldering and replacing switches on network adapters. Every time a new technology came out, I would play with it in my dad’s office.” David took a keen interest in his father’s testing, fabrication and proposed application of small robotic devices such as one to help elderly people around the home.

Together they followed the development of drones with interest and David decided to build his own by consulting instructions found on the Internet. But his first attempt was not a great success. “I built a tiny drone but realised it was far too powerful; I had accidentally built a racing drone!”

David met his other company co-founder David Park while studying at UCL. “His talent is his design eye, strategic thinking and understanding what clients really want. He has worked on net-zero masterplans overseas and brings a refreshing challenge to a lot of what we do. Dad’s goal on the other hand has never really been commercial, but for the love of the technology itself. I sit in the middle of the two.

“The company wouldn’t be where it is without both of them,” continues David. “Working with people who not only have your back but challenge you is key. Together we look at problems from every aspect to create holistic solutions.”

Members of the Inteliport team at Cranfield next to a demonstration of its drone port and drone

South coast trials

Inteliports was founded at the end of 2021 as a spin out from David’s father’s research and development company Motion Robotics. Its first major trial was with the Solent Future Transport Zone to help an NHS hospital on the Isle of Wight transfer and receive medical supplies by drone with a hospital in Southampton during the pandemic.

“Nurses and porters do not have the time to be responsible for drone deliveries so we realised that to be successful, the entire logistics chain had to be automated,” David says. “We introduced ground systems and worked with a university to conduct drone vibration tests, to ensure medicines would not be damaged in flight.”

After securing a place on the Future of Air Mobility Accelerator with Connected Places Catapult, the firm worked alongside flight specialists at Cranfield University who helped provide further testing. From there, the company took its mobile drone platform to Llanbedr airfield in north Wales to conduct trials.

Inteliports is currently working with Fawley Waterside – an eco-town in Hampshire – to explore how drone delivery infrastructure could be integrated into a future development masterplan. Further prospects include working with a rail freight logistics company to investigate how railways could transfer goods to drones to complete the last leg of a long distance delivery.

“Our mission at Inteliports is to create systems and solutions that allow drone logistics operations to scale and impact communities positively,” says David. “We look at the core technology associated with drones and the architecture that wraps around them, but also want our ports to embed successfully into communities.”

He adds that he does not want to see urban centres “ruined by an overpopulation of drones”, but ensure that the flying vehicles can support local areas.

“This is not just a case of laying out infrastructure in a logical fashion, it has to add value to a place,” he adds. “Drone infrastructure is likely to have some push-back from the public, so we have to make sure that what we build is more than just somewhere drones fly from; it needs to help create a community.”

One wonders if the company’s ground infrastructure for logistics could one day be used by drones carrying people. “The hope is that we can eventually scale up to systems that support air taxis,” David adds. “But we are being realistic at the moment as to what is possible with air mobility. Right now, our focus is on supporting the movement of goods.”