Wingcopter, a Darmstadt, Germany-based drone manufacturer, today announced that it raised $22 million in a funding round led by Xplorer Capital and Futury Regio Growth Fund. The company says it will use the proceeds to expand its health care-related activities (including the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines), prepare for the launch of its next-gen drones, set up a partially automated production facility, and grow its team at a new U.S. complex.
The commercial drone market was already accelerating, with reports the industry would grow more than fivefold by 2026 from the $1.2 billion it was reportedly worth in 2018. But the pandemic has increased demand for drone services in areas such as medical supply deliveries and site inspections. Honeywell, a major supplier of aerospace systems, launched a new business unit covering drones, air taxis, and unmanned cargo delivery vehicles. And last week, startup American Robotics snagged the first-ever U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval to fly automated drones beyond the line of sight.
Wingcopter, which was founded in 2017 by Ansgar Kadura, Jonathan Hesselbarth, and Tom Plümmer, aims to develop drones that improve the lives through commercial and humanitarian applications. The company focuses on the delivery of medical goods, packages, and food as well as inspection, inter-site logistics, and mapping via photogrammetry using aircraft that operates in wind gusts over 45 miles per hour, reaches speeds upwards of 150 miles per hour (in fixed-wing mode), and carries payloads weighing up to 13 pounds.
“In 2015, I came back from a longer stay in Ghana where I had seen the negative consequences of poorly developed healthcare supply chains,” Plümmer told VentureBeat via email. “As I already had some experience with commercial drone services, I fell in love with the idea of using drones for the delivery of urgently needed medical goods to create positive social impact. Not being able to build drones myself, I was looking for an engineer to team up. Shortly after, I was introduced to Hesselbarth, an engineer with a focus on aerospace as well as an outstanding inventor … In 2017, we officially founded Wingcopter as properly registered company together with a third partner, Ansgar Kadura, who helped set up our first medical delivery project in Tanzania and who is now heading our global flight operations.”
Wingcopter’s electric-powered drones — among them the Wingcopter 178 Heavy Lift — feature a tilt-rotor mechanism that enables them to take off and land vertically, like multicopters. The company claims they can reach a range of up to 75 miles without a payload (or 88 miles with a payload) and an altitude of roughly 3.1 miles while remaining relatively quiet.
In a collaboration with Merck and the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences, Wingcopter recently performed what it claims was the world’s first beyond-visual-line-of-sight flight between production facilities, flying lab samples 15.5 miles from a Merck plant in Gernsheim to the company’s headquarters in Darmstadt. And last year, Wingcopter announced it would collaborate with UPS subsidiary UPS Flight Forward to design package delivery drones, ultimately toward earning regulatory certification for a Wingcopter aircraft to make commercial delivery flights in the U.S.
As a part of its humanitarian efforts, Wingcopter delivered insulin to an Irish island in the North Sea that’s frequently cut off from the mainland due to inclement weather. On the South Sea island of Vanuatu, the company partnered with the local ministry of health, UNICEF, and health care providers to set up an on-demand vaccines supply, delivering children’s vaccines on-demand from one central hub to 19 remote villages and reducing waiting times from up to 7 hours to a few minutes. In Scotland, Wingcopter launched a drone-based COVID-19 response trial on behalf of the National Health Service Scotland to provide the Isle of Mull with tests, ostensibly cutting delivery times from 6 hours to 15 minutes. And Wingcopter says it’s working with the African Drone and Data Academy to establish a delivery drone network in Malawi, where the company has delivered nearly 200 pounds of medicine to remote areas affected by flooding and started a long-term project — Drone + Data — to improve local health care supply chains.
In the near term, Wingcopter, which has raised $25 million to date and employs over 100 people, says it plans to expand its drone-delivery-as-a-service offerings, which give customers access to its five-continent, fully managed drone delivery network. The company also plans to scale up production at its new 77,500-square-foot headquarters in Weiterstadt, Germany, and hire engineers in the areas in the fields of flight testing, certification, production, software development, ground and flight control software, embedded systems, architecture, and cloud infrastructure.
“We managed to bootstrap and grow the team to over 30 employees just based on revenues, before we decided to accept our first VC investment by Corecam Capital Partners in late 2019 to be able to scale faster,” Plümmer added. “As we are expanding our business model from a pure OEM to OEM-and-drone-as-a-service, we generate more and more recurring revenues for our drone operations services. We have a solid customer base and already sold drones and services … With the fresh funding [and] the new and game-changing Wingcopter generation to be released within the next months, we are now ready to establish partnerships centering around other fully automated delivery applications as well, for example. in groceries, ecommerce, inter-site logistics, or food.”