Quiet, climate-neutral, reliable, fast, and able to uplift heavy items - these are the conditions a means of transportation must satisfy if it is to be utilized by logistics heavyweight, DB Schenker, to carry shipments on the first or last mile of delivery. “Our customers demand clean, fast, and innovative solutions for their supply chains,” Jochen Thewes, CEO, DB Schenker, confirms his company’s interest in partnering with drone operator, VoloDrone.
Although not in commercial operation yet, a model of the big VoloDrone was recently presented to the attendees of Germany's national aviation conference held in Berlin; among them, leading politicians and high-ranking members of the aviation and logistics industry. Here, the VoloDrone was in the spotlight of the show, because it was tangible, enabling participants a glimpse into the upcoming era of unmanned aerial vehicles.
The VoloDrone, a product of UAV specialist, Volocopter, is capable of uplifting goods weighing up to 200 kilograms, and autonomously carrying them over a distance of 40 kilometers, thus beyond the visual line of sight. The large and heavy drone is electrically powered, and can take off and land vertically, which allows for an enormous scope of application. This goes especially for places that are hard to reach by other means, such as nearshore islands, mountainous regions, places located in the hinterlands with poor road access, or land-to-ship transportation of goods. “Intra-city deliveries are also plausible use cases,” states producer, Volocopter. However, a DB Schenker speaker reacts rather cautiously on this assertion because of the drone’s dimensions which measure 9.2 meters in diameter and 2.15 meters in height. Given this size, it will hardly be possible to use the drone within metropolitan areas. “The VoloDrone will never be suitable as a pizza delivery service,” states the company speaker. Instead, he thinks of use cases outside the classic first and last mile spectrum. For example, the transport of industrial components between suppliers and the manufacturer of products.
Almost limitless applications
When the infrastructure for conventional means of transport is overburdened or non-existent, cargo drones offer an opportunity to rethink logistics routes, argues DB Schenker in a release. Except for densely populated areas, the possible applications of unmanned aerial vehicles in logistics are nearly limitless, Mr. Thewes confirms. The manager goes on to say: “Through our partnership with Volocopter, this vision is gradually becoming reality.” However, he does not deliver an exact date as to when the first DB Schenker VoloDrone will take to the sky in commercial service. Nor does Volocopter CEO, Florian Reuter, who remains vague concerning the launch of regular aerial services: “We have ten years of flight experience, and our advanced status in the certifications process with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) bears tremendous synergies for all our aircraft. DB Schenker is a leading logistics partner, with whom we are readying our VoloDrone specifically for the commercial use in different logistics applications.”
Questions about the current state of development of the drone and when it will be operational to become part of DB Schenker’s supply chain, are not answered by the member of the Deutsche Bahn Group of enterprises. “What I can confirm, is that we have thoroughly tested the loading and unloading of the drone with very satisfying results,” was all he told CargoForwarder Global.
Financial and systemic partners
DB Schenker started putting money into Volocopter in 2020, and upped its financial commitment (and influence – sic!) by participating in the latest fund-raising campaign kicked off by Volocopter. Other investors are private risk capital provider, Lukasz Gadowski, and btov, a European venture capital firm. The Sumitomo Insurance Group, MS&AD Ventures, TransLink Capital (Japan Airlines and Sompo Japan Insurance), joined the latest fund-raising campaign as well.
The capital generated in this way is used for the certification processes of drone models, and the development of a second generation of the VoloDrone, which is to be brought to market maturity at the earliest possible opportunity. In total, Volocopter has raised €122 million to date. “VoloDrone will expand our transport spectrum; it is the technology leader in this segment, and the parent company, Volocopter, is excellently managed by top people,” the DB Schenker communications officer said, summarizing the reasons that prompted the logistics heavyweight to invest in Volocopter.
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