Skyports takes off with $23 million to scale up drone services

The London-based startup will scale its drone services operations in new and existing markets, building on active operations in the U.K., Europe, and Asia drone operations markets

By Megha Paul

London-based electric air taxi infrastructure and drone services provider Skyports has raised $23 million. The first close of its Series B round saw the participation of existing institutional shareholders, including Deutsche Bahn Digital Ventures, Groupe ADP, Solar Ventus, Irelandia and Levitate Capital, and new investors such as Japanese conglomerate Kanematsu Corporation, global industrial property group Goodman Group, Italian airport platform 2i Aeroporti, Ardian’s Infrastructure Fund and F2i Italian Infrastructure Fund, and US-based VC firm GreenPoint.

The capital will enable the company to consolidate its position in the advanced air mobility infrastructure and drone operations markets.

Offering advanced air mobility (AAM), the startup builds and operates take-off and landing infrastructure for​ air taxis, and partners with electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) passenger and cargo vehicle manufacturers to enable safe, sustainable, and efficient flight operations within urban and suburban environments.AD

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“World’s first” hydraulic hybrid multicopter can fly up to 560 miles

By Chris Stonor

A classic case of “a drone with a difference”. Scottish-based company, Edinburgh Flowcopter, which specialises in Industrial Heavy-Lift Drones, has come-up with a unique concept – an unmanned craft that “runs aviation-certified combustion engines which will drive digital-displacement pumps designed for harsh environments, providing control bandwidth to fly,” reports inceptivemind.com.

The company’s initial aim is to assist helicopter operators, in particular, to optimise freight, surveying and search & rescue. The ability to fly in harsh weather over rough and inhospitable terrain is one of its primary selling points as well as long distances compared to its more vulnerable and less distance-flown electric counterparts. This robustness has Scotland written all over it, although such a craft could be helpful in the many remote and harsh environments around the world.

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Spright and Interpath Laboratory Launch Medical Drone Delivery Pilot Service

Spright, the drone division of Air Methods, announced today that it has partnered with Interpath Laboratory to launch a first-of-its-kind drone delivery network that will transfer lab specimens. The first proof-of-concept test flight was last week with the Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center to Interpath’s main medical laboratory location in Pendleton, OR.

The proof-of-concept initiative is expected to greatly reduce the turnaround time of critical diagnostic test results for clinics like Yellowhawk and Interpath patients, while also improving patient satisfaction, and enabling healthcare providers to implement follow-up care in a timelier manner.

The project, working with the Pendleton UAS Test Site team, will use a Wingcopter 198 drone leveraging beyond line of sight (BVLOS) technology to perform the 15-mile flight from Yellowhawk to Interpath’s clinical laboratory in Pendleton.

The current process for laboratory services takes patient samples throughout the day, then batches them together for pick-up by gasoline-powered vehicles in the evening for delivery to Interpath. These vehicles typically drive thousands of miles each day across the region to pick-up specimens from numerous clinics, hospitals and facilities.

In contrast, the new drone-delivery initiative will enable samples to be repeatedly picked up and delivered to Interpath throughout the day, providing a green solution that removes gasoline-powered vehicles from roads and lessens local traffic.

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ABB to provide charging infrastructure for Lilium’s electric passenger-carrying drone

BY MARK ALLINSON 

ABB E-mobility has agreed to provide the charging infrastructure for Lilium’s high speed regional air network, using electric passenger-carrying drones, scheduled for commercial launch in 2024.

Lilium has plans to launch networks in Florida, Germany, and Brazil. As part of the agreement, ABB will develop, test and supply the MegaWatt fast charging infrastructure necessary for the quick turnaround times needed for electric aviation.

The ABB charging points are designed to be capable of fully charging batteries in approximately 30 minutes, and charging up to 80 percent in 15 minutes, enabling the 20-25 flights per aircraft per day planned across Lilium’s global vertiport network. 

The initial range of a 7-Seater Lilium Jet is expected to be 155 miles with an average speed of 175 mph.

Frank Muehlon, president of ABB’s E-mobility division, says: “Combining Lilium’s mission to grow sustainable aviation with ABB’s global market expertise and leadership in e-mobility and charging infrastructure is a win for the environment and a win for passengers.

“Moreover, we see this planned partnership as an important commitment to all relevant charging standards that are adopted by multiple electric ‘vehicle’ manufacturers.

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Drones as Big as 747s Will Fly Cargo Around the World With Low Emissions, Startup Says

By Vanessa Bates Ramirez 

The global supply chain is currently experiencing all kinds of glitches, from material shortages to labor shortages and beyond. Moving goods from point A to point B has become more expensive, and there’s no quick fix in sight. But a San Diego-based startup plans to meet some of the demand for air freight with an innovative solution: autonomous cargo drones as big as a Boeing 747. And customers are jumping on board.

Natilus, founded in 2016, this week announced $6 billion worth of pre-orders for over 440 of its aircraft. The company says its blended wing design can fit 60 percent more cargo than existing freight aircraft while cutting costs by 60 percent and with 50 percent less carbon emissions.

Aleksey Matyushev, the company’s CEO, pointed out in a press release that moving freight by sea is 13 times cheaper than moving it by air, but takes 50 times as long. “Natilus intends to revolutionize the transport industry by providing the timeliness of air freight at an affordable cost reduction of 60 percent, making air cargo transportation substantially more competitive,” he said.

How will they do this? Much of the savings will reportedly come from the aircraft’s design.

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Berkeley researchers design self-folding in-flight drone arms

Researchers at UC Berkeley have developed a drone whose hinged arms can fold themselves from horizontal to vertical position in order to pass through tight spaces or carry light objects.

By Bruce Crumley

The objective of researchers at Berkeley’s High Performance Robotics Laboratory (HiPeRLab) was to design a quadcopter capable of raising and lowering its arms while in flight to adjust to limited spaces, or increase the tasks it could perform. To do that, they inserted hinges between the body of the square craft and its rotor-equipped appendages to enable their lowering and raising. In contrast to other experimental UAVs tricked up for similar folding movement, however, HiPeRLab scientists figured out a way for the drone itself to power all that flapping.

Previous limb-adjusting vehicles created by labs like Purdue University’s Engineering Technology school were outfitted with actuators that shifted the arms and rotors into different positions, making them more efficient in certain conditions like heavy winds. The HiPeRLab staff wanted to avoid inclusion of actuators, which draw off the drone’s batteries and thereby reduce its flight time. Their solution: use passive hinges whose up and down folding is powered by the rotors themselves.

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New Raytheon tech lets a single operator control 130 drones

By Bruce Crumley

A unit of Raytheon Technologies has not only developed a system allowing a single operator to control a swarm of 130 drones, but did so using off-the-shelf hardware and a focus on making the platform as easy to use as it is efficient.

Raytheon Intelligence and Space subsidiary Raytheon BBN created the tech permitting an individual or small group to operate 130 physical drones and 30 simulated UAVs in indoor and outdoor urban environments. The innovation was demonstrated at the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s fifth OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics program, which showcases ways of deploying multiple drones in unified missions. The Raytheon BBN tech not only caught attention for its ability to enable one person to control over 100 craft at once, but also its simplified approach in doing that – and the capacity for fast, easy adaptation to new challenges.

The company began by using off-the-shelf hardware and software, then created in-house additions where any gaps arose. Reliance on widely accessible gear flowed from a major objective in the project: allowing everyday tech to ensure the final system was as familiar feeling and easy to use as it was effective in its operation.

Intentionally deprived of heavy-duty computing and intricate (and costly) sensor components, the project obliged researchers to come up with simple methods for planning and fulfilling what were often complex objectives. In doing so, the Raytheon BBN team conceived a scalable, modular, and decentralized system to manage a variety of immediate tasks and overall mission objectives, as well as a capacity to adapt to new ones in the future. 

To make that possible, the group figured out a way for the system to determine how drones in a swarm should be individually assigned, then get them working together so wider mission targets can be fulfilled most effectively. 

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How Meituan is redefining food delivery in China with drones

Descending from the cloudy heavens, drones are helping the company get to places harder to reach by bike or car

By Rita Liao

On a congested sidewalk next to a busy mall in Shenzhen, a 20-something woman uses a smartphone app to order a milk tea on Meituan, a major food delivery company. In less than 10 minutes, the pearl-white drink arrives, not on the back of one of the city’s ubiquitous delivery bikes, but descending from the cloudy heavens, in a cardboard box on the back of a drone, into a small roadside kiosk. The only thing the scene is missing is a choir of angels.

Over the past two years, Meituan, one of China’s largest internet companies, has flown 19,000 meals to 8,000 customers across Shenzhen, a city with close to 20 million people. The pilot program is available to just seven neighborhoods, each with a three-kilometer stretch, and only from a select number of merchants. The drones deliver to designated streetside kiosks rather than hover outside people’s windows as envisioned by sci-fi writers. But the trials are proof of concept for Meituan’s ambitions, and the company is now ready to ramp up its aerial delivery ambitions.

Tencent-backed Meituan isn’t the only Chinese tech giant that hopes to fill urban skies with tiny fliers. Alibaba, which runs Meituan’s rival Ele.me and e-commerce powerhouse JD.com, have also invested in similar drone delivery services in recent years.

On the back of the pilot program, Meituan has applied to operate a commercial drone delivery service across all of Shenzhen, Mao Yinian, head of the company’s drone delivery unit, said at a press event this month. The application, submitted in September, is currently under review by Shenzhen’s aviation authority and is expected to receive approval in 2022, though the actual timeline is subject to government decisions.

“We went from experimenting in the suburbs to a central area. That means our operational capability has reached a new level,” said Chen Tianjian, technical expert at Meituan’s drone business, at the same event.

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Electric Sky developing beam to remotely power drone flights

By Bruce Crumley

Innovating startup Electric Sky is working on an energy transmitter to beam power to both single and swarms of drones in flight, and has now been backed by a grant from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency

Electric Sky, which has offices in Seattle and Midland, Texas, received $225,000 in funding from DARPA to develop its remote concept to power airborne drones. Over the six-month phase the grant covers, Electric Sky will focus primarily on adapting the system for use with swarms of UAVs at relatively short distances. Continuing work will then seek to expand those to longer-range, single-, and multi-craft operation.

That sequential road map may seem logical in creating most emerging technologies, but it seems to run counter to Electric Sky’s patent application, and executives’ description of the platform. 

Other methods already being developed to power drones with remote, wireless tech – usually with lasers or microwaves – tend to get weaker the farther they travel from their source. By contrast, Electric Sky says its Whisper Beam innovation actually intensifies when it reaches its UAV target.

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Meet SNAG: Tiny bird-inspired drone-robot hybrid can fly through the air before perching on branches – and could be used in search and rescue missions

By JONATHAN CHADWICK

  • SNAG is a 3D-printed robotic bird with landing capabilities inspired by a falcon 
  • It has a motorized claws that can take-off, land and grasp a variety of branches
  • Engineers claim SNAG could be used for wildlife monitoring and search & rescue
  • Tests in an Oregon forest have shown it can land and take off from tree branches 

Engineers have created a falcon-inspired robot that can take-off, land and grasp branches just like a real bird – and even catch objects in the air. 

Developed by a team at Stanford University, SNAG (stereotyped nature-inspired aerial grasper) replicates the impressive grasp of peregrine falcons.  

In place of bones, SNAG has a 3D-printed skeletal structure – which took 20 iterations to perfect – as well as motors and fishing line in place of muscles and tendons.

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This Futuristic Mailbox Is Smarter Than All Your Gadgets, Will Transform Drone Deliveries

By Cristina Mircea

In a future where mailmen will be replaced by drones, it is only logical for the mailboxes to keep up with technological advancements. The DroneDek smart receptacle is compatible with drone couriers, humans, and robots, and it was designed to securely receive and hold your deliveries so that you can worry about more important things. 6 photos

This smart mailbox is weatherproof and feature-packed, being equipped with sensor technology, a motorized sliding door, GPS, Bluetooth, and advanced positioning technology. It is secured by a fully encrypted, end-to-end opening protocol, which means no one can open it unless they have the right security code. The DroneDek smart box has been optimized for tethered, dropped, manual, and automated deliveries. It is also climate controlled, Bluetooth enabled, and comes with a two-way speaker system for real-time communication. Or you can just use it to play music.

Drones can also use the smart box to recharge wirelessly.

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Zipline Launches Commercial Drone Delivery Service in the U.S., Teams Up With Walmart

by Cristina Mircea

Delivery drone manufacturer Zipline initially started as a medical supply provider via autonomous aircraft, operating distributing centers in Rwanda and Ghana. Now the company launches its first commercial drone delivery service in the United States, with Northwest Arkansas being the first region on its list. 7 photos

In order to bring its drone delivery services to Arkansas, Zipline partnered up with Walmart. The two just launched an instant, on-demand delivery service in Pea Ridge, Arkansas, with customers being able to select from a wide range of health and wellness consumable items.

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