Though it has its fair share of skeptics, drone delivery looks to be very much a part of the future of the final mile. And soon, it may face its biggest test yet.
German drone delivery firm Wingcopter this week announced a partnership with Continental Drones Ltd. to build a network of 12,000 Wingcopter 198 drones across Africa over the next five years. Once completed, the new service would become the largest commercial delivery drone deployment in the world.
“Together with Wingcopter, we are committed to accelerate the development and economic integration of Africa by enabling the creation of drone-based delivery networks across the continent,” commented Alexander Asiedu, founder of Continental Drones and chairman of Atlantic Trust Holding.
“With our longstanding business experience on the ground and Wingcopter’s best-in-class drone technology,” he added, “these networks offer a real chance to fuel economic development and help improve the livelihood of millions.”
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Wingcopter and Continental Drones’ proposed network would span 49 sub-Saharan countries, expanding Wingcopter’s presence in Africa beyond Malawi. The companies would focus primarily on streamlining on-demand deliveries of medical supplies like medicines, vaccines and laboratory samples, but also essential goods.
“Wingcopter is well positioned to execute against the tremendous opportunity of drone delivery in the next decade,” added Wingcopter CEO and co-founder Tom Plümmer. “We are convinced that our cooperation with Alex [Asiedu] and his Continental Drones team will unlock the African drone delivery market on a large scale, allowing us to jointly improve and save millions of lives.”
The planned drone delivery network would be powered by thousands of Wingcopter 198 drones. The aircraft are fully electric cargo drones designed to carry heavy payloads (by drone delivery standards) over long distances. Capable of delivering up to three packages per flight, they can carry 11 pounds over a distance of up to 46 miles, with a max payload of just over 13 pounds.
Though the drones are capable of navigating and delivering parcels by themselves, a remote operator can also fly and monitor up to 10 aircraft at a time. Pilots can even command them to hand over parcels from one drone to another.
More so than other continents, Africa is a good fit for drone delivery. Inefficient and unsustainable infrastructure in Africa has long been a barrier to universal health coverage, particularly in developing countries, like many of those in the sub-Saharan region. That creates the opportunity for a solution like drone delivery, which requires only a digital infrastructure.
Wingcopter and Continental Drones’ biggest competitor in Africa will be Bay Area-based Zipline, which has provided humanitarian drone deliveries to remote regions of the continent for several years.
Both companies have also recently brought medical drone delivery to the U.S.: Zipline in Utah through a partnership with Intermountain Healthcare and Wingcopter in Kansas through a collaboration with medical services provider Spright.