Volocopter is partnering with Near Earth Autonomy to test Near Earth’s autonomous flight technology on the eVTOL VoloDrone.
Based on Volocopter’s 18-rotor multicopter design, the VoloDrone is a cargo utility drone designed to carry a payload of 200 kilograms (440 pounds) up to 40 kilometers (25 miles). By teaming up with Pennsylvania-based Near Earth Autonomy, the German eVTOL developer intends to demonstrate beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) capabilities for autonomous aerial cargo transport.
The companies plan to start with subscale testbeds equipped with Near Earth Autonomy’s technology and Volocopter’s control systems. Following subscale demonstrations of the BVLOS capabilities, the technology will be flown on the full-scale VoloDrone. Volocopter and Near Earth plan to showcase their progress in a BVLOS capability demonstration in Munich in 2022.
“We are very excited to work together with the leading player in the aerial autonomy industry,” stated Christophe Hommet, chief engineer for the VoloDrone, in a press release. “Near Earth Autonomy has years of experience, shown real results, and is going to help our VoloDrone stay ahead of the curve with autonomous capabilities.”
Near Earth has already demonstrated its autonomy systems on a range of aerial platforms, from small unmanned aircraft systems to full-scale helicopters including the Kaman K-Max. The company said that over the past eight years of development, its aerial autonomy systems have logged more than 2,000 flight hours across 3,500 flights.
“Volocopter’s track record, unique safety design, and vision have established it as the leader in the eVTOL industry,” stated Near Earth Autonomy CEO Sanjiv Singh. “We look forward to proving autonomy systems for their aircraft. Our shared vision of the future, and safety as an integral part of it, makes this an ideal partnership.”
Volocopter is currently in the process of certifying its two-seat VoloCity air taxi, which it aims to have in service within the next three years. The company also recently unveiled the longer-range VoloConnect, for urban air mobility (UAM) flights of up to 100 km (60 miles).
To date, Volocopter has raised 322 million euros (around US$392 million) in financing from investors including Daimler, Geely, DB Schenker, BlackRock, and Intel Capital. DB Schenker has expressed a particular interest in the VoloDrone for transport logistics.