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Flying Donkey Challenge to test cargo capabilities of drones

By Staff Reports on March 31, 2014

Oliver Evans, chief cargo officer at Swiss International Air Lines, said he expects "cargo robots" to work alongside aircraft.

Swiss WorldCargo is providing logistical and other support to Switzerland’s La Fondation Bundi, a non-profit organization, for the first staging of the Flying Donkey Challenge (FDC).

Under the FDC, universities and corporations from all over the world will demonstrate the capabilities of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) designed to meet cargo transportation needs in rural areas of Africa and other remote parts of the world.

Some 33 teams from Africa, Australia, Europe, India and North America have applied to participate in the first FDC, which will take place in Kenya on Nov. 8-16. The applications are from universities, start-ups and companies with recognized research in UAV.

“Multidisciplinary teams of engineers, designers, lawyers, regulators and business partners will be collaborating to demonstrate the benefits and promote the acceptance of flying donkeys – cargo robots with a maximum takeoff weight of 60 kilos that could play a crucial role in the future of logistics and offer great transport opportunities, especially in fast-growing economies with infrastructure gaps such as Africa,” Simon Johnson, director of the FDC, said.

Swiss WorldCargo and other partners will provide logistics support for the FDC teams and their equipment between their place of origin and Kenya.

“Networks of small autonomous flying vehicles will be the next paradigm of transportation,” said Andreas Raptopoulos, the co-founder and CEO of Matternet, a company developing a UAV network. “In the short-term, they will revolutionize last-mile medical delivery; over time, they will become a new platform for commercial transactions, enabling unprecedented access to markets and commercial goods to communities that are currently underserved due to inadequate infrastructure. These new local aerial networks will interface with and extend the reach of the current long-range current aerial cargo networks.”

Swiss WorldCargo is keen to explore what role UAVs might play in extending its own services. Its partnership with the FDC is also part of its corporate social responsibility program.

“The question is not whether but when and how cargo robots will appear in our skies and work alongside aircraft and trucks,” said Oliver Evans, chief cargo officer at Swiss International Air Lines and chairman of The International Air Cargo Association. “My guess is that it will happen first in unexpected areas, driven by disruptive new entrants and benefiting the millions living in remote regions who will soon have access to the Internet and global trade using low-cost smartphones.”