This article was originally published in Unmanned Vehicles by Richard Thomas on April 10, 2019 

US-based unmanned systems provider Volansi will begin performing visual line-of-site package delivery flights trials in Singapore at the end of April, as part of the Future Flight consortium which is embarking on the two- year project with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore.
Volansi opened its Singapore office in 2017 as part of a wider effort to expand into the region. Showcasing its range of unmanned systems in Asia for the first time, the company will initially use multi-rotor UAS for phase one of the project, before transitioning at a later date to the larger C10 VTOL platform.

Wesley Guangyuan Zheng, founder of Volansi, told Shephard that the company had ‘a lot of interest’ in its platforms and was looking to expand into the Southeast Asia market.

‘We have a two-year project doing beyond visual line-of-sight delivery, which started last year,’ said Zheng, which will see the delivery of medical supplies to hospitals.

The Singapore project was described as a ‘demonstration of the concept’ to the markets in Southeast Asia while the company’s production line was at ‘full capacity’, Zheng added.

Additionally, Volansi has undertaken a range of programs worldwide, including humanitarian applications in Puerto Rico for the delivery of medical supplies, to transporting components and parts to heavy industry in Africa.

The C10 is described by the company as an industrial electric VTOL aircraft, capable of lifting up to 5kg in payload with an endurance of up to one hour. The VTOL capability provides operational flexibility for defense, logistics and heavy industry applications.

The system in 2018 also performed a take-off and landing from a moving barge in the US, a platform first.

With each business having different expertise, the companies’ cooperation addresses one of the biggest needs people experience in any major disaster.

This article was originally published in Inc by Wanda Thibodeaux on October 2, 2018.

Merck, Softbox, Volansi, AT&T and Direct Relief are companies with very different sizes and objectives. Yet, after Hurricane Maria battered Puerto Rico last year, their leaders all recognized that they needed to do something to help. They paid attention to the fact that most of the 2,975 people who lost their lives in Puerto Rico passed away from indirect causes, such as a lack of clean water or required medications.

Determined not to let that happen again, the companies partnered together and came up with drone delivery system that could deliver medical supplies as part of emergency relief efforts. They tested the system in right in Puerto Rico for a full week, monitoring the cold-chain transport technologies for the medicines and making sure that the drones could get to different locations.

In ideal partnerships, everybody learns and meets the goal

As a larger company, Merck easily could have opted to work with other bigger players. But Brenda Colatrella, Executive Director, Office of Corporate Responsibility for Merck, says that size isn’t the biggest consideration when vetting–finding partners with experience, knowledge of the space and commitment to the project is. It’s more about whether the companies can learn from and with each other, and when there are multiple potential partners that all look good, the dedication to invention and enthusiasm for making a positive impact for the greater good of humanity set the winners apart.

“Regardless of company size, everyone is bringing something to the table,” says Colatrella. “Softbox’s thermal-insulated packaging system ‘Skypod’, is critical for preservation of temperature-sensitive medicines and includes a smartbox powered by AT&T’s Internet of Things (IoT) technology. Combining that with Volansi’s drone technology and capabilities and Merck’s long history of expanding access to our medicines and vaccines yields an inventive solution for medicine access in natural disasters.”

Andrew Schroeder, Director of Research and Analysis for Direct Relief, agrees that size doesn’t matter.

“What matters is that the business has an empowered group of talented people within it who are able to approach social change in an open, directed but flexible way,” he says. “From a non-profit point of view, the most important part about the ‘fit’ of business partners has to do with the culture of the organization.”

Hannan Parvizian, Founder of Volansi, says his team looks up to larger, established companies that have been around the block, and that can offer guidance about growth and dealing with special situations that arise. Even as his business strives to stick to their roots and values, it helps to be able to use the larger companies’ resources and to take advantage of their larger reach and brand value.

“[But] at the end of the day, it’s all about relationships,” says Parvizian. “We strive to work with people that we feel comfortable with and can trust moving into the future. We apply the same criteria to large business partners as we would when hiring within our own company. Finding the right fit takes time.”

“I believe you have to establish trust and understanding between the key stake holders in both organizations early on in the relationship,” agrees Richard Wood, Technical Director at Softbox.

“We routinely help to bridge gaps of investment, practice and understanding in order to accomplish shared social goals,” Schroeder adds, “So when Merck, Softbox and AT&T approached us about helping to solve this specific problem of last-mile medicines delivery we thought it was a perfect opportunity to help ourselves and our partners learn, to experiment with novel logistical mechanisms, and to help our corporate partners (all of whom are ‘larger’ than Direct Relief in financial terms) learn how better to implement this kind of social innovation project for the genuine benefit of primary health centers and vulnerable communities.”

Three challenges, accepted and overcome

This isn’t to say that connecting companies of different sizes is a piece of cake. Schroeder notes the bigger risk Merck took on by opting to work with smaller companies, for example.

“One hurdle we often face with all partnerships is aligning on the logistics behind progressing tasks towards completion,” says Wood. “Every company has a certain procedure and no two processes are the same.”

Wood also asserts that it’s important for companies to have some kind of concrete demonstration of commitment from each other, as closer relationships can reduce the development cycle and offer smaller companies peace of mind about whether to make investments based on the larger partner’s requests.

Work on the drone project is still ongoing, with recent disasters such as Hurricane Florence reiterating the need for the system. The final stage, still in progress, involves setting up the ecosystem that lets people deploy 10-20 drones in a timely way over longer distances, and pinning down the specifics of a business model for regular, drone-based medical deliveries in emergencies. As the companies continue to work together, their efforts offer entrepreneurs a powerful lesson:

No matter what size you are, you can have something to offer. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re not big enough to make a difference, that a smaller company can’t teach or that a ‘little guy’ can’t have a leg up on the ‘big guy’ in a specific way! As long as you communicate well with your partners and have the same shared vision, it’s OK to aim big or take a chance. The more you focus on what you can contribute, the more good you’ll be able to do and the greater value you subsequently will have.

This article was originally posted on TechCrunch by Lora Kolodny in April 2017. 

Whether they’re flying pizzas, burritos or medications to customers’ doors, drones for delivery have arrived. Businesses as far-ranging as UPS, Domino’s, Amazon and the hospital group Ticino EOC are testing drones, and, in some cases, have inked deals with drone makers and drone service providers to use them commercially.

Still, most drones built for delivery only fly for a short time and distance. The drones are battery-powered, and one charge doesn’t take them far, though it does help them to operate very quietly and avoid lugging heavy, liquid fuels.

Now, a startup called Volansi has developed long-range drones for business to business, express deliveries. Late last week, TechCrunch has learned, Volansi completed a 100-mile demonstration of their drones in Austin, Texas. Specifically, the company flew a 4.7 lb. robotic component to an Applied Materials factory. (The component was a semiconductor wafer-lifting arm.)

Volansi co-founders Hannan Parvizian and Wesley Guangyuan Zheng said the challenging thing about the flight wasn’t technical, really. It was more a regulatory matter. In the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration requires commercial drone operators to keep their aircraft “in the line of sight” of a human pilot, unless they obtain government exemptions.

To comply with those rules, Volansi had to plan a route where an FAA official and the company’s own employees could chase their drone, from the ground, as it flew out 50 miles and returned, all carrying the manufacturing equipment through the air.

Parvizian said, “In restricted airspace, above private property where we know no other aircraft would come along, we have been able to fly 1,000 miles and carry up to 50 lbs. In unrestricted, or public, airspace, we are only able to demonstrate a shorter point to point delivery so far.”

The startup, which recently graduated from the Y Combinator accelerator, is hoping to change the face of manufacturing with its proprietary UAVs and delivery service. Parvizian said, “We will offer point to point delivery on fixed routes for customers who have a particular pain point around time and costs. These companies have fabs that cost billions to set up! They can lose hundreds of thousands of dollars any hour that one of their machines is not working and they are waiting on a replacement part.”

Being able to ship in a replacement part from a fab or warehouse that is within a few hundred miles will alleviate the need for any factory to keep a huge amount of spare parts inventory on-location.

Volansi isn’t giving up all the details on its drones, yet. But the company has built fixed-wing drones that range from an 8-foot to an 11-foot wingspan and fly from 70 miles to 200 miles per hour. The founders say the drones can carry up to 50 lbs. with a more typical payload of 10 lbs. per delivery.