Most delivery drones undergoing testing today are small and light enough to pick up with one hand, with payloads usually comprising a snack or some meds.
Volocopter, however, has built a much larger drone-like machine for much heavier payloads.
In the VoloDrone’s first-ever public flight this week, the German company demonstrated the vehicle’s airworthiness and showed how it can be deployed for cargo transportation.
Conducted in partnership with logistics firm and Volocopter investor DG Schenker, the demonstration involved a typical drone-delivery operation, including loading, launch, flight, landing, and unloading.
The VoloDrone electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing (eVTOL) aircraft was first unveiled in 2019 as a greener solution for transporting large payloads, with the aircraft able to be flown remotely or autonomously.
Since then, the company has been refining the design of the 18-rotor vehicle, with changes including the addition of a robust container to replace the cargo-carrying net seen with an earlier version.
The VoloDrone has a range of 25 miles (40 km) and can carry payloads of up to 440 pounds (200 kg) while flying at a cruising speed of 50 mph (80 kph).
While we don’t envisage the VoloDrone delivering large televisions or other bulky items to online shoppers on behalf of companies like Amazon, we can certainly see it being a useful solution for business-to-business operations such as middle-mile delivery or for taking inventory to remote areas. The VoloDrone could also be used to get vital supplies to difficult-to-reach locations impacted by disasters, and for daily operations on places likes constructions sites.
Volocopter launched 10 years ago with a passenger-carrying aircraft that inspired the design of the VoloDrone. Earlier this year the company unveiled another machine, the VoloConnect, an eVTOL aircraft capable of carrying four passengers at speeds of up to 112 mph (180 kph) on journeys of up to 62 miles (100 km). The company says it’s planning to test full-scale prototypes of the VoloConnect with the aim of gaining certification in the next five years. Its fleet also includes the VoloCity, a smaller eVTOL aircraft for two passengers.
Volocopter is in a race with other companies to build a so-called “flying taxi” for environmentally friendly urban mobility services, though regulators will have to be happy with the aircraft design and associated infrastructure before any such service can become a reality.