Volocopter, DB Schenker partner on unmanned B2B logistics

BERLIN: We all know that drone developer and urban air mobility start-up Volocopter has an eighteen-wheeler, right?

Well; we could not resist. But German aviation start-up Volocopter does have a giant unmanned aerial vehicle with eighteen propellers, called the VoloDrone, which they launched at an agricultural technology exhibition show held in Hanover in November last year.

At its launch, it was revealed that the heavy-duty aerial logistics machine, with a carrying capacity of 200 kilograms, was working with agricultural machinery conglomerate John Deere towards perfecting a drone fit for deployment onto the agricultural landscape, to fulfil tasks that included crop dusting and liquid fertiliser application, among others.

Almost ten months later, the news seems quiet on that end, but Volocopter has been busy; the company announced that it has partnered with logistics group DB Schenker to deploy its heavy-lift drones to business operations, in a project that will gather vital practical-flying experience before its air taxis enter service.

A division of German rail operator Deutsche Bahn AG, DB Schenker is a logistics organisation that offers supply chain solutions to the air, land, sea and contract logistics industries. In February this year, the company invested a significant amount of capital into Volocopter, which they hope will go towards the latter gaining the European Union Aviation Safety Agency full certification, which is expected to arrive, first for the VoloCity air taxi in 2020, then the VoloDrone a year later.

Volocopter eventually raised €122million from investors.

“We are convinced that the Volocopter technology has the potential to bring transport logistics to the next dimension for our customers”, DB Schenker CEO, Jochen Thewes, said at the time. “DB Schenker has already tested autonomous and electrical vehicles in several innovation projects and in actual operations. By integrating the VoloDrone into our supply chain of the future, we will be able to serve our clients’ demand for fast, remote, emission-neutral deliveries. We are thrilled to now be part of this drive for innovation in a fantastic team.”

But while they wait for the certification, the two have decided to go ahead with plans to put the volodrone to work. Flight-by-flight permits to fly the VoloDrone can be made, provided the staff has been adequately trained, using a simulator.

In pilot tests, the drone easily lifted its maximum payload of 200kg and, and its range of 40km makes it ideal for heavy-duty work such as delivering medicines to a hospital or dropping off components at a factory – a perfect draone-based solution to the Business-to-business operations that the Volocopter/DB Schenker partnership is targeting.

“The logistics opportunity in the urban market is just as big as the passenger market,” says Volocopter CEO Florian Reuter said in an interview. “When people associate logistics with drones, they always think of the three-kilogramme, last-mile delivery to the doorstep. But it’s the middle mile, not the last mile, that we want to serve.”

Thewes chips in; “Drones are a technology that would allow us to rethink supply chains for city logistics. Our common goal is to have a commercial proof case up and running by 2021.”


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