Volocopter is working with Near Earth Autonomy to enable beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations for its eVTOL VoloDrone, with a demonstration planned in Munich next year.

Together, both companies will aim to establish standardised BVLOS capabilities for VoloDrone missions within the business-to-business transport sector. They will adapt their autonomy technology to seamlessly integrate with the overall eVTOL architecture, while addressing the challenges of weight, power, and cost. To start, subscale testbeds will be equipped with Near Earth Autonomy’s technology and Volocopter’s control systems to test BVLOS capabilities in a controlled environment.  

After adapting and testing the BVLOS capabilities on subscale platforms to leverage the Volocopter specific flight characteristics, the same technology will be used on the full-sized VoloDrone to prepare for fully autonomous flight for future logistics use.

Christophe Hommet, Volocopter’s Chief Engineer for VoloDrone, said: “We are very excited to work together with the leading player in the aerial autonomy industry. Near Earth Autonomy has years of experience, shown real results, and is going to help our VoloDrone stay ahead of the curve with autonomous capabilities.”

The German startup – which recently announced its long-range eVTOL aircraft, VoloConnect, has more than a decade of flight experience and conducted over 1,000 flight tests for this project. The VoloDrone can carry a 200kg payload 40 km and has been designed to safely transport cargo where conventional transport is limited, due to topography, regulations or congested traffic.

While Near Earth Autonomy has carried out 3,500 flights and recorded more than 2,000 flight hours of its autonomy system across various aircraft types, sizes and environment in the last eight years. It has already integrated its BVLOS autonomy systems with full-scale helicopters, both in piloted and remotely piloted configurations.

Sanjiv Singh, CEO of Near Earth Autonomy, said: “Volocopter’s track record, unique safety design, and vision have established it as the leader in the eVTOL industry. We look forward to proving autonomy systems for their aircraft. Our shared vision of the future, and safety as an integral part of it, makes this an ideal partnership.”

Volocopter is currently preparing for its commercial launch of UAM services within the next three years. These services plan to function within a UAM ecosystem which will consist of its eVTOL air taxis, VoloCity and VoloConnect, VoloPort infrastructure and digital connective platform, VoloIQ.

The company has said BVLOS capabilities would help it achieve autonomous aerial cargo transport. and estimated the projected market opportunity for VoloDrone services to be approximately $120 billion by 2035.