Coronavirus lockdown sees renewed interest in drone deliveries as UPS partners with Wingcopter

Packages could reach customers without the need for any human contact

Anthony Cuthbertson
Wednesday 25 March 2020 15:47 GMT
Wingcopter drones can travel up to 120km at speeds of up to 240kph
Wingcopter drones can travel up to 120km at speeds of up to 240kph (UPS)

Shipping giant UPS has partnered with German startup Wingcopter to develop delivery drones that could autonomously fly packages to customers.

The announcement comes amid a huge surge in demand for home deliveries as countries around the world go into lockdown to contain the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.

As one of the world’s biggest courier companies, the drones could be deployed across the US and internationally to the more than 220 countries and territories that UPS serves.

Wingcopter’s drones feature a fixed-wing design that allows them to travel up to speeds of 240km/h, while a tilt-rotor mechanism enables vertical take-off and landing in order to precisely deliver goods to small spaces.

They have been developed to deliver medical supplies and parcels of food and have a range of up to 120 kilometres – significantly further than commercial multicopter drones.

“Together we aspire to extend the speed and reach of package delivery,” said Wingcopter CEO Tom Plummer. “Our vision has always been to leverage technology to improve the lives of people around the world.”

More than $300 million has been invested in drone delivery companies since 2012, however strict aviation regulations mean they are yet to be introduced on any significant scale.

UPS has already achieved a big step towards realising this, after its drone delivery unit Flight Forward received approval from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in October to operate a full-scale "drone airline".

German startup Wingcopter is working with UPS to develop commercial delivery drones
German startup Wingcopter is working with UPS to develop commercial delivery drones (UPS)

“Drone delivery is not a one-size-fits-all operation. Our collaboration with Wingcopter helps pave the way for us to start drone delivery services in new use-cases,” said Bala Ganesh, vice president of the UPS Advanced Technology Group.

“UPS Flight Forward is building a network of technology partners to broaden our unique capability to servie customers and extend our leadership in drone deliver.”

Drone deliveries are already being used tech giants like Amazon and Google, though so far only on a limited scale.

Last year, Google-funded startup Wing began deliveries in Canberra, Australia, to around 100 homes. Amazon is also hoping to deliver packages to customers within 30 minutes of ordering through its Prime Air drone branch.

Recent analysis of the drone delivery industry predicted that the drone market will grow to over $43 billion within the next four years, with drone deliveries set to be the fastest growing application within that market.

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