German startup Wingcopter has unveiled an autonomous delivery drone that can deliver up to three packages to multiple locations during a single flight. Such a design could have a dramatic impact on the efficiency of delivery drones, with most of the current designs only able to carry one package per flight. Wingcopter has been creating unmanned flying machines since 2017, and its Wingcopter 198 aircraft incorporates much of what the startup has learned over the last four years.
The Wingcopter 198 delivery drone is an all-electric, vertical-take-off-and-landing (eVTOL) aircraft with a 198 cm wingspan. It’s capable of carrying payloads of up to 13 pounds (6 kg) on trips of up to 47 miles (75 km) on a single battery charge, or up to 68 miles (110 km) with smaller payloads. The drone can zip between its delivery destinations real fast, too, thanks to its top speed of 93 mph (150 kph).
Wingcopter claims that its autonomous aircraft would be ideal for a range of delivery scenarios, “especially in rural areas or hard-to-reach places such as islands, mountainous areas, or offshore platforms and ships.” Deliveries are made by lowering packages down on a tether, a process that should save time as it eliminates the need for the drone to locate a landing spot before touching down.
Notably, Wingcopter says that its new control station software allows for a single human operator to oversee a fleet of up to 10 Wingcopter 198 drones from anywhere in the world. Tom Plümmer, CEO of Wingcopter, describes Wingcopter 198 as “a game-changer for drone-based deliveries,” adding that the aircraft can be “perfectly utilized as a fleet solution in delivery networks to create new opportunities everywhere.”
The startup says its Wingcopter 198 delivery drone has been designed and developed according to aviation safety standards and is currently undergoing a certification process with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). While the FAA has been gradually loosening the rules around commercial drone delivery, the regulations are still too tight to allow for a large-scale rollout of such services.
The company, which was founded in 2017, got its start manufacturing drones. It used the revenue to scale and now expands its business model to include drone-delivery-as-a-service. The company’s website is now promoting the delivery business, which aims to provide healthcare, e-commerce, and grocery delivery, among other services. Its ultimate aim is to create “logistical highways in the sky,” according to a statement by Plümmer. The key to this delivery nirvana, the company claims, is its patented tilt-rotor propellant mechanism that combines the advantages of two drone types — the multicopter, which gives drones their smooth vertical takeoff and landing capabilities and the ability to hover precisely in the air, with the fixed-wing, which provides fast flight times over long distances.
Looking to the future, the company is currently pursuing certification from the Federal Aviation Administration that would allow it to operate commercial flights in the United States. If they receive this certification, they will be one of only a handful of competitors operating in the space. They’ve also set their sights on another funding round, fresh off the heels of a $22 million Series A round in January. The company has around 120 employees, but with an additional injection of capital in a Series B, it could hire people with expertise in AI, piloting, and production.