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Volocopter and Near Earth Autonomy collaborate on autonomous flight capabilities for VoloDrone

By Chris Stonor

Volocopter and Near Earth Autonomy (NEA) have announced they will collaborate to trial NEA’s autonomous flight technology on Volocopter’s eVTOL VoloDrone aircraft, reports a company press release.

The two companies are to combine and apply their expertise to further autonomise urban air mobility (UAM). Together they plan to demonstrate their progress in a Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) Capability Demonstration in Munich during 2022.

Volocopter brings ten years of eVTOL flight testing experience with over 1,000 flight trials to the project. Its VoloDrone craft is designed to safely transport cargo where conventional ground-based transport is limited (due to topography, regulation or simply congested traffic areas).

Meanwhile, Near Earth Autonomy has conducted 3,500 flights lasting over 2,000 flight hours of their cutting-edge autonomy system across various aircraft types, sizes and environments in the last eight years of aerial autonomy development. Together they will aim to establish standardised BVLOS capabilities for VoloDrone missions within the business-to-business transport sector.

Christophe Hommet, Volocopter Chief Engineer of VoloDrone, said, “We are very excited to work together with the leading player in the aerial autonomy industry. Near Earth Autonomy has years of experience, shown real results, and is going to help our VoloDrone stay ahead of the curve with autonomous capabilities.”

Christophe Hommet

Volocopter is preparing for their commercial launch of UAM services by 2024. These services are planned to function within a UAM ecosystem to promote greater connectivity in congested urban areas with sustainable, aerial solutions. This ecosystem will be composed of electric air taxis (VoloCity and VoloConnect), electric heavy-lift drones (VoloDrone), their respective infrastructures (VoloPort), and a digital connective platform (VoloIQ).

Meanwhile, the press release says, “NEA has already integrated its BVLOS autonomy systems with full-scale helicopters, both in piloted and remotely piloted configurations. Together with Volocopter, they will adapt their autonomy technology to seamlessly integrate with the overall eVTOL architecture while addressing the challenges of weight, power, and cost.”

And goes on, “To begin, the partners will utilise subscale testbeds equipped with NEA’s technology and Volocopter’s control systems to test the BVLOS capabilities in a controlled environment.”

Sanjiv Singh, CEO of Near Earth Autonomy, commented, “Volocopter’s track record, unique safety design, and vision has established it as the leader in the eVTOL industry. We look forward to proving autonomy systems for their aircraft. Our shared vision of the future, and safety as an integral part of it, makes this an ideal partnership.”

Sanjiv Singh

The release continues, “After adapting and testing the BVLOS capabilities on this subscale platform to leverage the Volocopter specific flight characteristics, the same technology will be used on the full-sized VoloDrone to prepare for fully autonomous flight for future logistics use.”

And goes on, “The VoloDrone, Volocopter’s electric heavy-weight cargo drone, can carry a 200 kg payload 40 km and will add a decisive edge in sustainable business-to-business transport over difficult terrain. BVLOS capabilities would help VoloDrones achieve autonomous aerial cargo transport.” Concluding, “Volocopter’s projected market opportunity for VoloDrone services is estimated to be around USD120 billion by 2035.”

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