Wingcopter has secured $22 million in Series A funding to strengthen its leadership in drone-based logistics, with a special focus on healthcare-related applications including the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. “Our team is driven by tackling the world’s challenges through scalable innovations,” said Wingcopter CEO Tom Plümmer. “This chapter of our journey is dedicated to setting up logistical highways in the sky that leapfrog traditional means of transportation.” One of the major barriers to the equitable distribution of medical resources is poor infrastructure – a problem Wingcopter is hoping to solve, Plümmer said. “With the support and powerful networks of our investors we are taking a huge step closer to fulfilling our vision of creating efficient and sustainable drone solutions that improve and save lives everywhere.” COVID-19 has severely exacerbated a problem that affects billions of people worldwide, and Wingcopter’s plans will continue beyond the pandemic’s eventual end. Wingcopter will also expand its manufacturing capabilities at home in Weiterstadt, Germany. Their new headquarters – which is already home to more than 100 employees - will allow for production to be ramped up to meet the ever-growing global demand of the industry. In addition to their efforts distributing COVID-19 vaccines, Wingcopter recently started a long-term project in Malawi, Drone + Data Aid, to improve healthcare supply chains together with Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. The German drone manufacturer also partnered with UNICEF’s African Drone and Data Academy, training local youth in drone operations, from mission planning to piloting beyond visual line of sight delivery. The current model of the delivery drone being used in these efforts, the Wingcopter 178 Heavy Lift, provides both one- and two-way delivery, covering distances of up to 120 kilometers. It can accurately lower a package through a winch mechanism, or land at the point of destination and return to its origin with new payload. Pre-orders can already be placed.
ULC Robotics, Inc. has completed successful flight testing of a newly developed vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) fixed-wing UAS. As a robotics, energy services and research and development company with a focus on the energy and utility industries, UCL Robotics has developed this commercial-grade VTOL UAS to “meet the inspection needs of electric and gas utilities.” ULC’s Aerial Services and engineering teams designed and built the UAS from the ground up. Thanks to a sensor payload capacity of 10 pounds, the aircraft, which has a 10-foot wingspan, can conduct fully-autonomous aerial inspections and assessments of different utility structures and properties, such as right of ways, gas transmission pipelines, and electrical transmission lines. To develop the VTOL UAS with the most “beneficial commercial utility applications,” ULC Aerial Services is working with gas and electric utilities from around the country. Upcoming test flights and pilot programs using the UAS will play a crucial role in the aircraft’s ability to collect valuable imagery and data, for enhancing utility infrastructure. ULC will equip the UAS with a variety of sensor and monitoring payloads, to allow the platform to “collect specialized data for the divisions’ utility customers.” The UAS will continue to be flight tested with “radiometric thermal cameras and high-resolution DSLR imaging systems,” and more than one system can be included on the aircraft at a time, thanks to its payload capacity. ULC also plans to integrate LiDAR, gas leak detection sensors and other advanced systems onto the payload of the UAS. For its vertical take-off and landing capabilities, the UAS has a set of eight quadcopter rotors, and after reaching an altitude and airspeed that have been predetermined, the UAS transitions into “highly-efficient, forward flight combining the practical functionalities of multi-rotor UAV and the speed and range of a fixed-wing aircraft.” Currently, the UAS is running an electric propulsion system with a flight time of 60 to 90 minutes. In the near future, ULC Aerial Services plans on integrating an electric/gas hybrid propulsion system that will allow for a five-hour endurance, as well as a 50 MPH cruise speed (250-mile range), which will lay the foundation for beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations. A strategic aspect of the aerial services program involves the planning for BVLOS flights with the VTOL UAS and ULC’s other unmanned aircraft. This will allow the company’s utility customers to “adopt the most efficient and cost-effective UAV services.” Using the VTOL UAS, utility inspectors can assess infrastructure health from the safety of their desk using the data that is collected from the UAS, which is a safer alternative to electric utility infrastructure inspection methods that are currently used. Current methods oftentimes require utilities to fly helicopters over the inspection site several times a year, which can be a costly process, and a dangerous one for workers due to low airspeed and altitude. Between offsetting the use of helicopters, and its sensor payload, the VTOL UAS “brings a new level of innovation to utilities that improves asset reliability, reduces the environmental footprint and increases safety.” Speaking about the UAS, Mike Passaretti, ULC Aerial Services Program Manager, says, “the combination of extended flight time, speed, and range offers enhanced inspections and assessments that improve upon the capabilities of current utility inspection techniques.”
Exercise in upstate N.Y. shows how flight could replace drives through downtown traffic. A team of more than a dozen COVID-19-motivated entities with expertise in public health, public safety and unmanned flight recently enjoyed a hard-won peek into the future of UAS in medical transport in upstate New York. The peek included roughly 15 flights, including a media demonstration, in January to prove the ability to move COVID test kits between the State University of New York’s Upstate University Hospital and the hospital’s diagnostics lab in the Central New York Biotech Accelerator. The facilities are fewer than 1,000 yards apart by air, officials estimated, but the hospital has long relied on automotive transport back and forth across about seven blocks of 30-mph traffic in downtown Syracuse. Dr. Robert Corona, chief executive officer of Upstate University Hospital, said he was so excited that he felt like a kid as he watched the demonstration Jan. 16. Corona said his enthusiasm for flight goes back to his teens, when he learned to pilot small planes, and his enthusiasm for UAS as a potential means of medical transport also goes back years. “This was a wild dream of mine from back in my days as pathology chair,” said Corona, laughing as he recalled the looks of doubt he used to get when describing his hopes to hospital colleagues. “We are grateful that CHURP chose Syracuse and the SUNY system to validate this vital technology.” Standing beside Corona at the demonstration was Tony Basile, chief operating officer of NUAIR, a nonprofit that manages the New York UAS Test Site at Griffiss International Airport. The hospital and NUAIR were key players on the wide-ranging team that spent most of 2020 orchestrating the proof-of-concept exercise – a team dubbed the COVID-19 Humanitarian UAS Response Partnership, or CHURP. While the flights were short, the preparation required was long and complicated, Basile emphasized. He praised CHURP’s founders, the international law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and Jacksonville, Fla.-based Emergent 121 Consulting, for their role in facilitating the effort. CHURP got underway in early spring, as New Rochelle, N.Y., reeled from the shock of being an early epicenter of the pandemic. “Once we got going, we would have three phone calls a week,” Basile said. “With each week’s phone call, there would be one or two new entities on board – and there were, you know, some very big names, contributing ideas.” Participation was especially strong, Basile said, because while the potential for UAS to streamline medical transport is widely recognized, the actual use of unmanned aircraft for that purpose has been slow to take off. Examples of progress have arisen in Maryland, where a kidney for transplant was delivered by UAS to the University of Maryland School of Medicine; and in North Carolina, where WakeMed Health and Hospitals uses drones to transport medical samples. But each leap forward in a new location has required years of groundwork. Regulatory complexities that CHURP dealt with, Basile said, included the need for an FAA waiver to fly over people and moving vehicles, a waiver that has since become unnecessary for flights within the parameters of an FAA rule finalized in December. Another tricky area, he said, involved restrictions on the transport of hazardous materials. Those restrictions ultimately led CHURP to test only the transport of unused COVID test kits. Preparation also included pilot training, which was handled by DroneUp. Pilots flew DJI Inspire small quads with Indemnis parachutes, and carried payloads of a pound or less at the end of an 8-foot tether, Basile said. Lessons dealt with such matters as handling the tethered setup, as well as avoiding conflicts with air ambulance flights. There are no immediate plans to use UAS to transport COVID-19 tests routinely, Basile said. But enthusiasm about the success of the exercise has CHURP team members looking beyond COVID for ways to use UAS. Possibilities under discussion, Basile said, include the transport of tissue samples and medication. “The ability to quickly and safely transport pharmaceutical items is a game-changer,” he said. “In the healthcare world, where every minute counts, the collaborative work we’ve done here showcases the viability, economic advantages, and life-saving potential of contactless drone deliveries.”
After being granted permission by the FAA, the Department of the Interior recently used a fixed-wing UAS to fly over an active wildfire, according to KOBI5.com. According to the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), this was the first time that the FAA allowed a UAS fly over a fire, beyond the visual line of sight of the pilot. A Department of the Interior (DOI) UAS Pilot, Technician, and Wildland Firefighter, Steven Stroud, flew the UAS in the Modoc National Forest in northeastern California over a Parker 2 Fire. The UAS flew over 19 miles and covered more than 500 acres as it flew in a pre-programmed grid pattern. During its flight, the UAS used its high-resolution infrared camera to capture images of the ground below, and those still images were later “digitally joined together” to create a “high-resolution, three-dimensional map of the land.” The USFS says that the 30 minute UAS flight accomplished the same goals that it would have taken a ground crew of 20 firefighters several operational periods to complete.
In 2015, the U.S. Marine Corps’ Next Generation Logistics innovation group, known as NexLog, was established to “advocate for the future of emerging technologies on the front lines and for equipping Marines with the ability to make solutions for their own environment.” With this in mind, Rhet McNeal, a 26 year-old Corporal from Griffin, Georgia, developed a 3D-printed UAS nicknamed “Scout” that is a cheaper alternative to the hand-launched, fixed-wing RQ-11 Raven and RQ-12 Wasp III UAS that the Marines currently use. Costing $35,000 and $49,000 per unit respectively, the Raven and Wasp UAS are considered relatively inexpensive by military standards, but they are still expensive enough to where only a few Marines are authorized to fly them. The UAS also require $100,000+ ground control systems, adding to their overall value. The UAS can be difficult to launch at times, and failed launches a lot of the times lead to crashes, which results in expensive repairs. McNeal’s Scout UAS is far cheaper than the Raven and Wasp UAS, as the Scout, which can be controlled using the iPhone app Q Ground Control, can be built for just $613 with off-the-shelf electronics and 3D printer resin. A Scout UAS system, which includes two UAS and one control system, costs less than 0.5% of a $250,000 Wasp system. “We have these drones that do a hundred things that make them cost between $35,000 and $50,000, but the soldiers normally only use the two or three big capabilities,” McNeal explains. “I wanted to strip it down to what we actually use so that our drone does not cost so much we are afraid to use it – if you break it, not a big deal.” During NexLog’s 2016 Logistics Innovation Challenge, McNeal and a team of five other collaborators submitted a proposal called “Adaptable and Affordable 3D Drones,” which was a proposal for a “quick-assemble, transportable drone modeled after the Wasp but with easily printable 3D parts.” The proposal was one of 17 winning ideas selected during the challenge. By winning the Logistics Innovation Challenge, McNeal was granted access to Penn State’s Applied Research Laboratory (ARL), which is a U.S. Navy University Affiliated Research Center. It was here that McNeal first began designing the UAS and experimenting with 3D printing parts for the UAS’ wings. The big boost in the development of the Scout UAS, though, was when McNeal participated in a 4-month residency at Autodesk’s Pier 9 technology center in San Francisco, which is a workshop that includes 3D printers, CNC machines, a woodshop, a metal shop, and software and hardware experts in every field. McNeal’s residency began in January of this year, and he credited his work during the residency as being integral in the development of the Scout, stating that “there is no way on earth the Scout would be as good as it is today if not for the great people and equipment I was able to work with on a daily basis at Pier 9.” Now that McNeal has completed his residency, the Scout’s design files and build specifications have been handed off to the MITRE Corporation, which supplies and tests a lot of the Marines’ UAS. The MITRE Corporation will be responsible for carrying the Scout through the certification process and possibly, wider-scale manufacturing.
A global leader in engineering, planning and consulting services, Michael Baker International has announced that it has expanded its growing UAS fleet with the purchase of an Altavian Nova fixed-wing UAS. The company says that the UAS, which can fly up to 90 minutes and cover 600-800 acres in a single flight, will be used to conduct “aerial inspections and mapping of large sites or during inclement weather conditions.” “With the addition of the Altavian Nova to our expanding UAS fleet, Michael Baker continues to serve as an industry leader, capable of offering our clients unmatched aerial mapping and inspection solutions for a range of project types and environments,” says Robert Hanson, senior vice president and Technology Practice leader at Michael Baker International. Ideal for capturing large projects thanks to a variety of unique features and capabilities, the Altavian Nova will expand Michael Baker’s mapping operations, as it is combined with the company’s comprehensive fleet of vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) UAS, and “mobile and static Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) systems for data collection.” Michael Baker has wasted no time in using its new UAS, as the Altavian Nova has already been used for an “emergency task order” in response to significant flooding on the roads and highways along Pyramid Valley, Nevada. With the conditions too dangerous for ground crews, the Altavian Nova was put into action, and it was able to capture the entire 15-mile section of damaged highway with excellent detail. “We used our findings from the NevadaDOT project in Nome, Alaska, where a Michael Baker team used the Altavian to map sections of a 34-mile highway that was being washed out yearly by thaw,” says Kevin Pomaski, chief UAS pilot at Michael Baker International. “For both clients and projects, Michael Baker relied on the extended range, durability and precision mapping of the Altavian Nova to deliver unmatched solutions for clients.” Made in the United States, the Altavian Nova UAS is approved by the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) for use on USACE or U.S. Army installations. The UAS features the “most advanced DSLR-based photogrammetric mapping payloads available on the market,” it has multispectral capabilities, and it transmits data without line of sight using GPS and IS technologies. The UAS can also identify vegetation and natural resources, thanks to its remote sensing capabilities and color infrared technology.
Black Swift Technologies (BST) and Leptron Unmanned Aircraft Systems have formed a strategic alliance that will result in Leptron UAS manufacturing the Black Swift S1 UAS integrated with BST’s SwiftCore Flight Management System. Leptron and Geotech Environmental Equipment, Inc.—which Leptron is a subsidiary of—will market the resulting aircraft as the GeoSwift Mapper. “From my perspective the only way to effectively address the light commercial and industrial market is to partner with other like-minded organizations and have each group focus on their strengths,” says Jeff Popiel, President and CEO, Leptron Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Inc., via sUAS News. “In this case, Black Swift’s expertise is in advanced avionics and platform integration, while Leptron/Geotech focuses on manufacturing and training. The fact that the aircraft is manufactured entirely in the USA cannot be overlooked either.” Jack Elston Ph.D., CEO, Black Swift Technologies, adds, “this alliance affords us the ability to refocus our attention on the strengths that have set us apart from other UAS providers in the market. It is a great example of collaboration between two progressive Colorado-based companies.” As Elston mentions, both companies are based in Colorado, and both are active members of UAS Colorado, which is a “non-profit business league” that is dedicated to promoting and improving the state’s aerospace industry. Being members of this business league sparked the dialogue between the companies that resulted in this partnership. In terms of the SwiftCore Flight Management System, it is an advanced flight management control system that is extremely accurate and reliable. It is designed to meet the demands of nomadic scientific field campaigns in harsh environments. The SwiftCore Flight Management System has an intuitive user-focused interface, which makes flight planning simple and easy to accomplish. Mission monitoring and mapping are both completed from a handheld Android Tablet loaded with BST’s SwiftTab software. Thanks to gesture-based controls, users can confidently deploy their aircraft with minimal training, and collect data over geography that is “topically diverse with confidence.” “Their interface is very easy to use, very intuitive,” comments Daniel Hesselius, Director of Flight Operations, University of Colorado Boulder. “They continue to improve that interface to make it more like what a manned aircraft would have, which I think is a positive.”
The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) has announced that it will soon have the use of up to 50 Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) fixed wing UAS. The new UAS are a result of an extended process to develop mission performance requirements and select the most useful type of aircraft to meet the needs. Andover, New Hampshire-based startup company Birdseyeview Aerobotics was awarded a contract to produce and train on the new UAS. The new UAS weigh less than 10 pounds and are capable of carrying a variety of modular sensors. They have a service ceiling of 12,000 feet, and are operable in winds up to 25 knots. The UAS are designed to take off and land vertically in confined spaces, and they can also be quickly launched from spaces with a limited area, such as a boat. “These new fixed-wing aircraft are another weapon in our arsenal as we remain committed to preventing the spread of catastrophic wildfires,” says U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. “The UAS program continues to leverage technology to fight fires in safer and more efficient ways to ensure we are protecting the public, local communities and the men and women on the fire line.” The extended range of the UAS enhances safety and capabilities where DOI already has beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) authority within Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR), such as those established over large wildfires. “Last year, thick smoke over some wildfires grounded manned aircraft for days, with only our UAS able to fly during these periods,” comments DOI’s Office of Wildland Fire Director, Jeff Rupert. “This expanded capability lets us continue our wildland firefighting operations in conditions that would stop manned aircraft, and provide greater support to our firefighters.” While the new UAS will be used to fight wildfires, DOI believes that its new aircraft have the potential to support its emergency response responsibilities beyond wildfires, being that the aircraft are easily customizable for the types of fieldwork and emergency response operations performed. With this in mind, DOI expects to use the new UAS across its mission portfolio to supplement current UAS capabilities. DOI says that it will “continue to maintain security and privacy requirements for encrypted control and payload links, as well as the ability to control whether any flight telemetry/mission data is shared.” “With stewardship responsibilities for nearly one in every five acres in the United States, DOI often finds itself working with other federal, state, and local authorities in responding to natural disasters,” says DOI’s Office of Emergency Management Director, Lisa Branum. “UAS have proven very useful in emergency management situations, aiding enhanced responsiveness, better data, and public transparency.” DOI is expecting at least a 50% increase in UAS flights this year, partly thanks to the addition of this new fleet capability, and also because of the expected award of a commercial UAS services contract later this Spring.
UAVOS Inc. has announced that it has completed a series of test flights with Sitaria, its new fixed-wing UAS. The UAS is designed to carry out a variety of tasks, including patrol and observation missions, and aerial photography of terrain area with a radius of up to 120 kilometers. The UAS is also “purposely designed” to work with the LIDAR airborne laser scanning equipment as payload. With a wide range of speeds—a stall speed of 65 kilometers per hour and a maximum speed of 150 kilometers per hour—Sitaria can conduct missions at minimum flight speeds close to 70 kilometers per hour. UAVOS says that when there is a tailwind of six meters per second, the aircraft has a minimum operational speed of approximately 90 kilometers per hour. The company adds that it is important to maintain a certain speed of the aircraft relative to the ground when trying to complete a mission using LIDAR. When the UAS is conducting a monitoring mission while moving against the wind, “it shall keep high air speed,” UAVOS says. It will have a lower speed when moving upwind. “During monitoring missions, a wide range of speeds allows Sitaria fixed - wing drone to quickly reach the object and return back at the optimal speed,” explains Vadim Tarasov, UAVOS investor and board member. “Takeoff and landing is carried out at low speeds, which makes it possible to use short runways. All these features directly affect safety, and also optimize operating costs.” Sitaria weighs 35 kilograms, has a wingspan of 5.2 meters, and its length of fuselage is 2.8 meters. The UAS has a flight time of three hours, and an operating altitude up to 6000 meters, when it has a payload of four kilograms. The range of the video transmission can be up to 60 kilometers, but the backup Iridium command line is unlimited in range. According to UAVOS, there is an opportunity to carry out research under jamming of satellite radio navigation signals and the command line channel, thanks to the EW countermeasure function. Also, there is a ground control system to go with the Sitaria UAS. Sitaria is equipped with an electric motor, which is less noisy and more reliable, UAVOS says. Additionally, the low vibration level does not impact the stable work of the payload. Sitaria has a unique aerodynamic design, which allows for the quick adjustment of the position of the wing relative to the fuselage when the weight of the payload changes. The minimum tail weight has a positive effect on the control and stability of the aircraft.
Lockheed Martin recently signed its first international Master Research Agreement with King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia. Additionally, Lockheed Martin and KAUST announced their initial collaboration in the field of flexible electronics. This collaboration will include the integration of KAUST developed flexible solar cells on fixed-wing UAS to enhance their operational endurance, and support applications across a variety of sectors. “Lockheed Martin is proud to help play a defining role in promoting the Kingdom's thriving R&D efforts as a committed partner to KAUST,” says Lockheed Martin Chief Technology Officer Keoki Jackson. “It is only through hands-on collaboration that we will be able to discover innovative solutions to conquer existing challenges, and we are looking forward to working with Saudi talent as we realize a safer and more secure future.” The agreement follows a Memorandum of Understanding that was finalized in November 2017 by Marillyn Hewson, Lockheed Martin's Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, during her visit to KAUST. Hewson also serves on the Board of Trustees at KAUST. Under the terms of the contract, Lockheed Martin and KAUST agreed to cooperate on a number of technology-focused projects that support Saudi Vision 2030. “One of the goals of this year-long project will be to design, develop, integrate and test flexible and innovative solar cells to optimize the endurance of small UAVs,” says KAUST Senior Vice President for Research, Innovation, and Economic Development Jean Frechet. “These could be used in various applications including agricultural productivity, monitoring oceanic environments and more.”