Airbus moves ahead with cargo drone project

Image: Zelator drone
Alexey Medvedev’s Zelator drone was among the winners of a design challenge. (Credit: Local Motors)

Amazon isn’t the only big-name company that’s developing a new kind of drone for cargo delivery: Europe’s Airbus Group is moving ahead with Local Motors on a partnership that takes a decidedly different tack.

The two companies have been crowdsourcing a drone design that parallels what Amazon and lots of other commercial ventures have been working on: an unmanned aircraft system that weighs no more than 55 pounds when fully loaded, and is capable of vertical takeoff and landing as well as fixed-wing forward flight.

The Airbus cargo drone could deliver an 11-pound (5-kilogram) payload to destinations within at least 37 miles (60 kilometers), and a 7-pound (3-kilogram) payload to 62 miles (100 kilometers). Top cruising speed? At least 50 mph.

That compares with Amazon’s plan to deliver packages weighing up to 5 pounds in 30 minutes or less. The drones would roam to destinations within in a radius of 10 miles or more, traveling at cruising speeds of 40 to 50 mph.

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Airbus Ventures backs 3-D printing and design

Image: Local Motors LM3D Swim
Local Motors is working on a 3D-printed car called the LM3D Swim. (Credit: Local Motors)

Airbus Ventures, the European aerospace giant’s Silicon Valley spin-off, says the first investment from its $150 million venture fund is going to Local Motors, a Phoenix-based company that aims to sell 3D-printed cars based on open-source designs.

“Not since the space race has there been a bigger opportunity for aerospace innovation,” Tim Dombrowski, managing general partner of Airbus Ventures, wrote in Friday’s announcement on Medium’s website.

The $150 million fund, Airbus Group Venture Fund I, will take advantage of opportunities to “accelerate innovation in near ground, air and space flight,” Dombrowski wrote.

He acknowledged that Local Motors “may seem like a surprising investment” for Airbus but argued that the deal was a “perfect fit.”

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