The talk of the drone world seems to center around last-mile deliveries. But the key to the industry really taking off might lie in middle-mile drone delivery.
San Francisco-based drone startup Volansi is focused on just that: middle-mile drone delivery. Rather than have drones land in, say, your backyard as company’s like Wing (the drone delivery arm of the company formerly known as Google) do – which requires you have a safe setup to receive the delivery — Volansi drones are conducting deliveries to specific cargo drop off and take off locations. Customers get an end-to-end delivery service where a human brings packages that last mile (Volansi’s deliveries focus on commercial and defense industries, including construction, mining, oil & gas, medical and heavy equipment operations).
The middle-mile system is also used by drone delivery services like Flytrex, which famously flew takeout food deliveries across a large bay in Iceland — a route that would have taken significantly larger via car due to the massive water barrier.
California-based Volansi just hit a big milestone this month after announcing a partnership with the North Carolina Department of Transportation to begin those middle-mile drone delivery projects for commercial applications in North Carolina.
The flights will be conducted as part of the UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP) in North Carolina. North Carolina has been a big player in the drone industry ever since 2018, when the Federal Aviation Administration selected the NC Department of Transportation as one of 10 participants in its Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program. But the state really stepped up efforts in the wake of coronavirus by rapidly deploying tests of PPE deliveries across medical campus (done via another drone delivery company, Zipline), and transporting healthcare equipment around WakeMed’s Raleigh campus through UPS.
The flights will be made with Volansi’s electric, hybrid VTOL fixed-wing drone. Hybrid fixed-wing, VTOL drones have become popular for drone deliveries, as the fixed-wing aspect allows drones to fly for longer periods of time for farther distances, while the vertical takeoff component allows drones to be more nimble and takeoff from a much wider swath of spaces without needing infrastructure like a runway. Volansi’s drones are capable of carrying up to 10 pounds of cargo for as far as 50 miles.
Volansi is a fairly newcomer to the drone scene having launched in just 2015, but it is already making big waves. At the beginning of the year, Volansi hired Daniel Buchmueller, who formerly came from both Airvus and Amazon Prime Air, as its Chief Technology Officer. Buchmueller served as Vice President, Head of Drone Cargo at Airbus, and was one of Amazon Prime Air’s co-founders.
And earlier this summer, Volansi was selected by the United States Air Force (USAF) as an official showcase solution at AFWERX Fusion 2020, to showcase at the Air Force’s Base of the Future Challenge.
Volansi’s drones are made in the U.S., with design, manufacturing, and testing done in northern California and Arizona.