Volocopter and logistics group DB Schenker this week completed the first phase of trials to establish the basis on which its autonomous VoloDrone eVTOL aircraft could be used for cargo operations. The German companies conducted what they called a joint static proof-of-concept (POC) exercise at the Messe Stuttgart convention center to assess how the VoloDrone will integrate with ground operations in logistics facilities.
Following the trial operations, the partners now plan to establish a blueprint for electric cargo drone operations with the support of the Fraunhoffer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics (IML). The document will be based on lessons learned from the POC exercise, including how logistics groups can manage personnel, payloads, automated ground vehicles, and eVTOL aircraft. It will be made available to project partners under a non-disclosure agreement.
The VoloDrone is one of three eVTOL designs being developed by Volocopter, in addition to the VoloCity and VoloConnect passenger-carrying vehicles. Like the VoloCity, it has 18 rotors and electric motors and is expected to carry a 200-kg (440-pound) payload on trips of up to 40 km (25 miles).
Research teams from Volocopter, DB Schenker, and Fraunhofer IML simulated how the VoloDrone would be integrated into a logistics network with a detailed examination of ground tasks such as coding goods, assessing safe cargo loads, and identifying required preflight cargo checks. They also looked at processes for transporting and loading payloads and considered safe standard operating procedures for ground-based staff preparing the eVTOL vehicle for flight. Autonomous mobile robotics specialist Gideon Brothers provided some robots for the POC evaluation.
DB Schenker has been a partner with Volocopter since 2019 and also is one of several investors who have collectively raised around €322 million ($383 million) since the company was founded in 2011. It has more than 74,000 employees at more than 2,100 logistics locations in over 130 countries.
“The VoloDrone unlocks new possibilities for the logistics industry, and it represents a key element of DB Schenker’s innovation and sustainability roadmap for logistics,” commented DB Schenker’s global head of innovation, Erik Wirsing. “Volocopter’s leadership in this emerging urban air mobility industry is most evident in their practical solutions, their customer-centric approach, and their commitment to bringing UAM to life.”