German drone maker raises $22m for series production and Covid-19 vaccine delivery
German drone developer and operator Wingcopter has raised $22m in its first major funding round to go into mass production and a US expansion.
The focus will be on healthcare operations, including rapid, automated distribution of Covid-19 vaccines to remote areas.
The Series A round was led by Silicon Valley-based Xplorer Capital, a key investor in autonomous technologies, and Futury Regio Growth Fund, a Germany-based growth capital fund. The round also included Futury Ventures and Hessen Kapital III participated in this financing round.
The current drone, the Wingcopter 178 Heavy Lift, provides both one- and two-way delivery, covering distances of up to 120km. It lowers its package using a winch mechanism, or lands at the point of destination and return to its origin with new payload.
The funding will be used for the development of the next generation drone where the company is working with US delivery firm UPS. This is based around its patented tilt-rotor mechanism, which enables the transition between multirotor operation for hovering and delivering, and fixed-wing for low-noise forward flight.
Wingcopter will also rapidly expand its drone-delivery-as-a-service offerings. The company already partners to run BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight) flights on five continents without having to own and maintain a fleet of drones, hire and train pilots, or run operations themselves.
The company is setting up a partially automated serial production at its new headquarters in Weiterstadt, Germany, already home to more than 100 employees. The 7,200 square meter (77,500 square feet) site allows for a swift ramp up to mass production using scaling methods of the automotive industry with an aviation-grade quality and safety.
Wingcopter plans to further grow the team in the fields of flight testing, certification, production (including a new US facility), and software development, specifically focused on ground and flight control software, embedded systems, software architecture, and cloud infrastructure.
Next: Medical delivery drone trial in Scotland
Wingcopter is supplying the systems for a trial in Scotland to deliver urgent medical cargo, such as Covid-19-19 test kits and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Operator Skyports is using the drones with the Soarizon management platform from Thales to run flights between the Lorn and Islands Hospital in Oban and the Mull and Iona Community Hospital in Craignure 10 miles (16km) away on the Isle of Mull.
“This chapter of our journey is dedicated to setting up logistical highways in the sky that leapfrog traditional means of transportation. Poor infrastructure has always been a barrier, especially for healthcare provision, impacting billions of lives – a situation further exacerbated by Ccovid-19,” said Tom Plümmer, CEO of Wingcopter
“We have been impressed with the Wingcopter team and the speed at which they have developed the product and built the company. We look forward to watching and supporting them as they help to deliver vaccines in the near-term, and to deliver freight in a more sustainable way over the long-term”, said Jonathan McQueen, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Xplorer Capital.
In Malawi, Wingcopter recently started a long-term COVID-19 response project named Drone + Data Aid to improve healthcare supply chains together with Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). As part of the undertaking, Wingcopter has 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.
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