Historically, 70% to 80% of the commercial drone market has been with Chinese drone manufacturer DJI and their success has been instrumental in creating the drone ecosystem that we have today. Their larger drone platforms have enabled operators to carry not only heavier cameras, but also allowed companies to experiment with other payloads including parcels. However, where DJI seemed to be the go-to brand for any commercial operator looking to enter the cargo market a few months ago, recent vehicle performance issues, financial scandals and data protection worries have opened the market for new entrants. This has led to commercial aircraft manufacturers, defence contractors and start-ups all vying for a piece of the pie.
Initial cargo drones were limited to a 2kg payload capacity and an endurance of 15-20 minutes. Now, the latest hexacopter and octocopter designs carry 9kg up to 15 minutes and can comfortably carry 3kg up to 30minutes. New tilt-rotor designs are increasing endurance even further while keeping vertical take-off capabilities. This allows 4kg of payload to be carried for distances of up to 80km or 2kg payloads up to 100km.
Meanwhile, the next-generation power technology is already waiting in the wings. Hydrogen fuel cells are set to extend the range of drones even further, offering up to four times the endurance compared to traditional quadcopter and hexacopter designs that we have today. Soon enough, there will be hexacopters capable of staying airborne for up to two hours at a time without relying on expensive and polluting fossil fuels.
Vehicle performance is improving and companies are working on the systems that will enable drones to operate safely in dense urban environments and controlled airspace. On the vehicle side, advanced sense and avoid technology service providers are developing autonomous lightweight solutions. On the software side, air navigation service providers are developing Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) capabilities in-house or through partnerships with software providers. Countries around the world are also actively supporting the industry by organising flight trial projects. In Europe, the EU Smart-City initiative is providing opportunities for industry to work with local government on integrating drones into the urban environment.
The logistical needs of drone service customers often can’t be satisfied by a single type of drone. Customers tend to have a variety of payload and range needs, but most of the vehicle manufacturers are focused on a single type of vehicle optimised for certain mission parameters. That’s why Skyports has partnerships with a variety of leading vehicle manufacturers enabling a one-stop shop solution for customers. The same way that airlines use different types of aircraft for short and long-haul flights, Skyports is partnering with vehicle suppliers to offer a solution that leverages the strengths and capabilities of the vehicles for the missions that they were designed to operate. This approach results in a cost-effective and customer-centric service offering that’s scalable and future proof. At the same time, it also allows manufacturers to focus on what they do best, build and develop the drones of tomorrow.