Japanese airline group ANA Holdings is collaborating with German drone manufacturer and service provider Wingcopter to accelerate the delivery of vital pharmaceuticals and other consumer products via unmanned aircraft.
The two are conducting trials with the electric fixed-wing VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) aircraft developed by Wingcopter, with the aim of building a drone delivery network capable of delivering essential needs across Japan.
“The ongoing tests of Wingcopter aircraft represent a significant step forward in the creation of a viable drone transportation network,” said Tetsuya Kubo, vice president of ANA HD, who oversees the Digital Design Lab.
The first phase took place between March 21 and 26, with the supervised flight of a Wingcopter aircraft between the islands of Fukuejima and Hisakajima in Goto City, Nagasaki Prefecture. ANA is providing insights to comply with local aviation regulations, whilst Wingcopter is providing support in terms of pilot training, mission planning, operation design as well as maintenance.
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“The flights demonstrated the viability of drone delivery for medical supplies, dramatically reducing patients’ waiting times. In this remote region of Japan, it is difficult to quickly transport medical supplies due to poor infrastructure. This has created problems for public health officials and medical professionals looking to rapidly respond in situations where time is a key factor in treatment,” a statement read.
The ongoing trials will help the Japanese company determine which aircraft are suited to operate best in each region of the country, evaluating local weather conditions and demand for drone delivery, as it establishes a series of hubs along the transportation network.
ANA Holdings has been eyeing the use of autonomous technology and testing advanced prototype baggage loaders and towing tractors at Saga Airport. It aims to fully commercialize drone delivery services by next year and have been conducting trials in Japan since 2018. In 2019, it signed an MOU with Zambia to conduct similar field tests with drones to improve the delivery of medical supplies in the country.
For Wingcopter, the partnership is a major step in its quest to expand in the Japanese market. It recently opened a new office as it looks to offer solutions in commercial drone delivery. Last year, the German innovator was awarded the Sustainable Development Goals Spotlight Prize at NTT Data’s Open Innovation Challenge in Tokyo.