Most people’s minds go to Amazon, Google or UPS when they hear of drone delivery, but there’s another — much smaller — drone delivery company based in Germany that you should be paying attention to: Wingcopter.
Wingcopter, which positions itself as a developer, manufacturer and operator of delivery drones, this week announced that it had secured $22 million in Series A funding. The financing round was led by Silicon Valley-based Xplorer Capital, which has been a key investor in many autonomous technologies including other major drone delivery company Zipline, and Futury Regio Growth Fund, with other participants including Futury Ventures and Hessen Kapital III.
The company builds drones for both commercial and humanitarian use cases. With the $22 million, Wingcopter said it intends to “strengthen its leadership in drone-based logistics, with a special focus on healthcare-related applications, including the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.” Among the other expansion plans Wingcopter has since its new infusion of cash:
- Seeking to partner with other companies that would make sense for incorporating drone delivery (Wingcopter already has partnered with package delivery giant UPS).
- Setting up a partially automated serial production at Wingcopter’s new headquarters in Weiterstadt, Germany.
- Hiring, especially in the areas of flight testing, certification and software development specifically focused on ground and flight control software, embedded systems, software architecture, and cloud infrastructure.
- Creating a new U.S. production facility (including a new U.S. facility).
Wingcopter has essentially two businesses: selling drones that you can purchase for your own delivery drone, or selling drone delivery as a service (so their people will handle your company’s delivery operations).
Purchasing your own delivery drone: Wingcopter’s primary drone is an eVTOL fixed-wing aircraft called the Wingcopter 178 Heavy Lift, which can fly up to 120 kilometers. eVTOL means the drone takes off and lands vertically like multicopters, but can fly long distances as efficiently and quickly as fixed-wing aircraft.
The drone can drop packages one of two ways: either lowering a package through a winch mechanism, or landing at the point of destination and return to its origin with a new payload.
The electrically-powered drone has a unique, patented tilt-rotor mechanism, which the company attributes as the reason why it can far exceed the range and payload capabilities of commercial multicopter drones. Wingcopter is also already accepting pre-orders for the next generation of its drone.
Purchasing drone delivery as a service: In addition to selling drones, Wingcopter offers drone-delivery-as-a-service — a business the company said it intends to expand. If you opt for that model, you’ll pay for Wingcopter’s, technology and BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight) flight operations track record — without having to own and maintain a fleet of drones, hire and train pilots, or run operations yourself.
Wingcopter’s response to COVID-19
Wingcopter is one of the companies that jumped on COVID-19 as an opportunity to prove its contactless delivery use case.
The company started a long-term COVID-19 response project in Malawi called ‘Drone + Data Aid’ to improve the country’s healthcare supply chains. As part of the undertaking, Wingcopter partnered with UNICEF’S African Drone and Data Academy to train local youth in drone operations, from mission planning to piloting beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) delivery and surveying flights.
In May 2020, Wingcopter, UNCEF and the African Drone & Data Academy together were named one of the nine winners of a massive coronavirus hackathon hosted by the German government, dubbed #SmartDevelopmentHack. That project showed how drones can improve health supply chains during COVID-19, and also proposed a delivery drone network in Malawi that would provide on-demand access to medical supplies such as COVID-19 test kits or vaccines, once available.
Separately, Wingcopter also ran trials on behalf of the NHS Scotland to provide the Isle of Mull with coronavirus tests via Wingcopter drone delivery. Given the remote location, drone delivery cuts delivery times between Lorn and Islands Hospital and Iona Community Hospital in Craignure on the Isle of Mull from what would otherwise be an up-to-6-hour journey through an arduous combination of cary and ferry to just 15 minutes.
A recent history of explosive growth for Wingcopter
Even prior to COVID-19, Wingcopter was undergoing fairly significant growth — besides literal growth in the form of a hiring spree, of course.
In June 2020, Wingcopter was named a Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum, recognizing its significant social impact as part of the fourth industrial revolution.
Just before that, they were named a finalist in the third annual AUVSI XCELLENCE Awards 2020.
Plus, the company holds a Guinness World record in speed, flying 150 mph.