Autonomous aircraft have long been thought of as having the most potential, though not in the realm of glitzy people-carrying drones so much as the more sedate world of cargo. It’s here where the economic savings could be most significant. Large, long-range drones built specifically for cargo have the potential to be faster, cheaper and produce fewer CO2 emissions than conventional aircraft, enabling same-day shipping over very long distances. In fact, the “flying delivering van” is considered the holy grail by many cargo operators.
In this space there are a number of companies operating, and these include: ElroyAir (California, raised $56 million), hybrid electric, VTOL, so so therefore short range; Natilus (California, funding undisclosed) uses a blended wing body, and is a large, longer-term project entailing probably quite high costs in certification and production; and Beta (Vermont, $886 million raised), which is an electric VTOL.
Into this space, out of Bulgaria (but HQ’d in London), comes Dronamics. The startup has already attained a license to operate in Europe, and plans to run a “cargo drone airline” using drones built specifically for the purpose. Dronamics claims its flagship “Black Swan” model will be able to carry 350 kg (770 lb) at a distance of up to 2,500 km (1,550 miles) faster, cheaper and with less emissions than currently available options.
It’s now coming out with the news that it’s raised a total of $40 million in pre-Series A funding from VCs and Angels.
Dronamics has so far raised from Founders Factory, Speedinvest, Eleven Capital and the Strategic Development Fund (SDF), the investment arm of the Tawazun Council, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Svilen Rangelov, co-founder and CEO at Dronamics, explained to me over email: “We’re the size of a delivery van (Renault Kangoo / VW Caddy) and we can cross all of Europe in 12 hours or less at a fraction of the cost of airfreight. That means we operate in a space between airfreight and road freight, and by creating a faster, cheaper, greener middle-mile, we can help customers achieve tremendous savings.”
“Right now the same-day radius of a fulfillment center is 2hrs drive… The only way to expand same-day coverage is to use a longer-distance low-cost middle-mile drone (a flying delivering van). With our range we can cover all of Europe same-day from a single warehouse — no one is able to offer that, traditional or drone competitor,” he added.
He said that unlike competitors, they are already licensed to fly (LUC – Light UAS Operator Certificate, under the new EU drone regulations), its cost profile is lower and it sells capacity not aircraft: “This allows the feedback loop between R&D and operations to be much shorter and we can innovate and iterate quicker.”
SDF venture capital division’s investment in Dronamics will now mean the creation of a UAE-based joint venture, creating a Dronamics operations in the UAE as a hub for the Middle East and North Africa region.
Abdullah Nasser Al Jaabari, managing director and CEO of SDF said in a statement: “When it comes to Dronamics, their economics are very promising and potential users of Dronamics would benefit from quick and efficient cargo deliveries.”
The $40 million raised to date is in addition to the €2.5 million ($2.7 million) grant Dronamics was awarded by the European Commission under its European Innovation Council (EIC) Accelerator program, and the EIC’s material commitment to support Dronamics’ Series A round with another €12.5 million ($13.45 million).