Another heavy-duty logistics drone launches

Chinese drone manufacturer, EHang, has added a new cargo drone to its repertoire. It is a heavy-duty logistics aerial vehicle that the manufacturer may – wrongly – think is the first of its kind in payload capacity.

But we will discuss that later; first we lay the groundwork on the many ways in which drone technology is changing our lives. The technology that started as just a hobby for small time enthusiasts continues to break new ground in growth trajectories that did not exist five years ago.

That drone technology is here to stay in now fait accompli.

Small unmanned aerial vehicles have been expanding their importance in commercial operations for the past five years, in industries that include agriculture, mining, survey and mapping, GIS, inspection, among many other industrial applications that have made jobs safer and faster to complete. With the growth of drone technology no longer in question, the only question left is, where is drone technology going next?

Enter the Ehang 216L; which follows hot on the heels of another drone EHang premiered a few months ago, with a set of specific skills to fight fires.

In sectors like parcel delivery, the big corporations are now catching up.

We now know that online retailer Amazon, technology conglomerate Alphabet (the parent of Google) and parcel deliverer United Parcel Service (UPS) are now in a race to control the delivery drone space, with Walmart – one of the biggest retailers in the USA – also testing drone technology to deliver parcels to its clients.

Then there is drone logistics, where we have drones with sexy names like the Zip (the signature drone for American logistics company Zipline, which made its name delivering emergency medical supplies and lifesaving blood sachets in Rwanda), the VoloDrone (a giant eighteen-propeller logistics drone introduced by Volocopter in 2019); the Condor, an autonomous aerial cargo vehicle by Drone Delivery Canada, which could soon be hauling 180-kg goods in Kenya; and the FH-98 – another humongous autonomous cargo drone with a capacity to transport 1,2-tonne cargo. These organisations identified an industry – in this case logistics – in which drones have a huge potential to excel and decided to dive in.

They were not wrong; in the estimation of research company Frost & Sullivan, the urban air mobility (UAM) global logistics market could reach US$46 billion by 2023, at an estimated compound annual growth rate of 740 percent.  China is projected to be the largest regional market in the world in 2023, accounting for 45 percent of the global logistics UAM market.

It is to this space that Chinese drone maker EHang has added its voice, with the unveiling of the Ehang 216L, which the company says will have the capacity to transport 200kg worth of cargo for short and medium distances in both rural and urban areas.

Based in Guangzhou, China, EHang develops and manufactures autonomous aerial vehicles and passenger AAVs which have entered service in China for aerial cinematography, photography, emergency response, and survey missions.

The company claims that to their knowledge, their latest offering, the Ehang 216L’s payload is the largest for multirotor autonomous aerial vehicles in aerial logistics.  But Volocopter might have something to say about that; as their Volodrone can easily stump its Chinese competitor, having been introduced to the world in Hanover in November last year. The VoloDrone is propelled by eighteen rotors, and can carry various types of cargo up to 200kg.

 “We’re thrilled to unveil another new version of AAV following the EHang 216F (the fire-fighting drone with EHang launched in July this year),” said EHang’s founder, chairman and CEO Hu Huazhi.  “The EHang 216L will meet the demand for heavy-lift autonomous aerial vehicles for short-to-medium-haul aerial logistics. 

“With increasing payloads and flight ranges, aerial logistics is expected to be one of the initial commercial applications of autonomous aerial vehicles as it has higher efficiencies but lower emissions than the conventional ground transportation.  The launch of the EHang 216L also complements our existing aerial logistics AAV portfolio, which consists of the medium-sized Falcon B and the small-sized GD 2.0X.  It also enables us to meet customer needs in various aerial logistics use cases.”

The company also said that their new drone will open up more commercial opportunities in aerial logistics for short to medium distances in both urban and rural areas.

“For example, in mountainous areas with poor road conditions, the EHang 216L can more quickly and efficiently transport agricultural products to help boost the local economy. The EHang 216L can be deployed to deliver supplies and oil samples for offshore oil rigs autonomously, replenish supplies in busy international ports more efficiently, and especially, can be a powerful tool in time-critical missions such as aerial emergency supply transportation and disaster relief in a more automatic and large-scale manner.”

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