The startup from Weiterstadt just outside Darmstadt has developed a drone that could change the face of logistics. It has already proven useful for vaccine deliveries, and now it’s even catching the eye of investors from Silicon Valley.
Is Frankfurt RheinMain as an innovation hub now witnessing the emergence of the next BioNTech – in other words, a hugely successful startup? Wingcopter, the new kid on the Hessen block based in Weiterstadt near Darmstadt, admittedly doesn’t produce life-saving vaccines. That said, its drone technology could nevertheless save lives – and it’s currently growing at a pace to match that of the Mainz-based biotechnology company in its early days. As recently as January 2021, Wingcopter secured a further 22 million US dollars from investors – including one from Silicon Valley. All of them are putting their faith in the future concept of eVTOL.
The abbreviation stands for Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing and refers to electrically powered drones with a unique, patented tilt rotor mechanism that permits vertical take-off before a switch to forward flight within seconds. Wingcopter can carry six kilos in weight and can take off or land without a runway or ramp and in confined spaces; moreover, it can also travel longer routes just as quickly and efficiently as fixed-wing aircraft. It is now reaching distances of up to 120 kilometers and a record speed of 240 kilometers an hour, and remains stable even in strong winds of up to 70 km/h. This opens up entirely new possibilities in logistics.
In Malawi, Wingcopter recently launched a long-term Covid-19 response project known as “Drone + Data Aid”, aimed at improving the supply chain for healthcare services in cooperation with the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ), which is active on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). As part of this plan, Wingcopter has established a partnership with UNICEF’s African Drone and Data Academy with the intention of training local young people in working with drones – from mission planning to piloting delivery and survey flights going beyond the line of vision.
The three founders committed to humanitarian applications early on and steadfastly refuse to use their technology for military purposes. After all, during a year spent volunteering in Ghana CEO Tom Plümmer was touched by the death of a baby in the house next door to his host family, noting that with rapid medical help, the child could perhaps have been saved. In 2017, he teamed up with Jonathan Hesselbart, now the CTO, who had spent his childhood on an airfield and had developed the idea for Wingcopter while studying mechanical engineering at university. Business engineer Ansgar Kadura joined the team a little later – first as an intern and now as CSO. The company already employs more than 100 people in Weiterstadt and is working on the next generation of the delivery drone.