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Startup Profile 2020: F-Drones

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Singapore-based F-Drones is developing a revolutionary new type of heavy-lift aerial drone that could greatly enhance shore-to-ship deliveries.

F-drones is a Singapore-based startup that was co-founded in March 2019 by CEO Nicolas Ang and CTO Yeshwanth Reddy to develop large-scale autonomous drones for on-demand aerial deliveries for a range of different industries. “The company is focusing on the marine and offshore sector first, which faces a painful problem of sending supplies to ships and offshore platforms,” Ang says.

“Every year, 2.5m trips are being made to deliver supplies to ships anchored at ports and offshore rigs. These trips are made by supply boats and helicopters, which are expensive, manpower-intensive and either slow or not on-demand,” he continues. “In addition, these deliveries produce more than 100m tonnes of carbon dioxide every year, which is similar to the amount that Indonesia produces as a country.”

F-drones, however, offers the sector “an alternative logistics channel” that is not only on-demand but also “cheaper, faster and greener”. What’s more, while the company at present employs rotary-wing units, it is gearing up to expand its fleet with its own “fully electric and autonomous drones” that differ greatly from conventional systems. “Our proprietary aircraft, the Hyperlaunch Heavy, will be capable of delivering 100 kg loads over 100 km,” Ang says. This, he notes, “is 20 times more load and five times the range” of most delivery drones currently available.

Such capabilities, though, are not the only differences that mark out F-Drone’s designs as unique. The Hyperlaunch Heavy, Ang explains, is also “a transition drone” that takes-off and lands vertically but which flies using fixed wings like an aeroplane. “Vertical take-off and landing (VTOL), allows us to land in compact spaces, such as on ship decks, while fixed-wing cruise enables more aerodynamic and energy-efficient flights, allowing us to cover a longer distance with heavier loads,” he says, revealing that these units will also employ computer vision to enable highly accurate landings “even on rocking vessels”.

“F-drones has done advanced simulations, built multiple scaled-down prototypes and commenced autonomous test flights. It is now working on a smaller version of the Hyperlaunch Heavy, called the Hyperlaunch,” he reports, adding that this particular unit will be able to deliver 5kg payloads over distances of 50km. “Tests are now being conducted on the first Hyperlaunch and we could see it starting delivery services in six months. The target for the completion of development of HyperLaunch Heavy is mid-2021,” he says.

Meanwhile, F-Drones has now signed a deal to provide drone deliveries for Eastern Pacific Shipping (EPS). This itself followed the successful delivery of ship parts and Christmas presents to the EPS-managed bulk carrier Crystalgate and the subsequent ferrying back of bunker fuel and water samples for testing on shore. “EPS is one of the world’s largest privately-owned ship managers. With a strong focus in technology and sustainability, it has inked a contract with F-drones for 200 commercial drone deliveries,” Ang states. “With more than 130 vessels, EPS is a great partner providing opportunities for test drone deliveries to its vessels.”

Having been selected from “more than 1,000 startups”, F-drones is also now participating in the Rotterdam programme of the PortXL accelerator. Furthermore, readers will be able to meet up with Ang at the SEA: The Future 2020 conference in London, where he will be speaking this coming May.

Formerly working for the Economic Development Board of Singapore, where for nearly a decade he helped attract foreign investment within the country’s maritime, offshore, aerospace and resources sectors, Ang also led the setting up of Singapore’s Office for Space Technology & Industry, securing investments worth $90m to nurture the local space industry.

No stranger to the world of autonomous aerial vehicles, Reddy previously co-founded AUS, India’s first commercial drone company and which now commands 60% of the domestic surveying drone market. He has also “designed, built and operated multiple types of autonomous drones over the past six years, including one of the very few drones in the world to have obtained certification”.

More information on the company and its drones can be found at the F-Drones website here: https://www.f-drones.com.

About Author

Brian Dixon is a business and industry journalist with more than 20 years' experience writing about ports and logistics. A member of the Chartered Institute of Journalists, he has covered stories on six continents. He divides his time between the UK and East Asia

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