Vitalii, how did you come up with your drone? How did it all start?
Since childhood, I was attracted by the aircraft industry, but it so happened that I followed in the footsteps of my father and grandfather, and became a heat and power engineer. I worked in the energy sector, achieved some success, went into alternative energy, then into IT, as a project manager. But over time, I realized that I simply cannot fully realize myself in a hired job. I always thought that I would have done better myself, and gnawed at myself for other people's mistakes. In the end, I said to myself: "Since you are so smart, go and do it by yourself."
There were savings to start a business, my wife supported me, only an idea was missing. I remembered my childhood dreams, my craving for the sky, for airplanes, and decided to make drones, not for war, but for peace. The industry is now just nascent, there is a demand for civilian drones, while technologies are already available that allow you to quickly design devices. Batteries, engines, autopilots are no longer some secret developments, they are available at the market, you just need to put everything together, debug and set up correctly. I put together a team of young ambitious engineers, we analyzed the drone market. Many startups both in the world and in Ukraine make drones with a low load - up to 5 kg; there are drones with a large payload - 200-300 kg. We chose a niche somewhere in the middle, closer to smaller ones - a drone with a carrying capacity of 20 kg.
Is your drone ready? Do you only need to find investors and buyers for mass production?
The full-size prototype will have a wingspan of 4.6 meters, and we have a smaller version of 2.8 meters. In Las Vegas, we presented a full-size mockup of the drone. Now the drone is in the process of being tested in the National Aviation University's wind tunnel. At the end of this year, we plan to create a full-size flying prototype, and an early 2023 - to deliver the first commercial drone to the first client.
And what can such a drone be used for? Who are your potential buyers?
For example, at the exhibition, we were approached with a request for the transfer of small cargo by drones between the islands of the Caribbean: food, alcohol, cigars. Another request is the transportation of medical supplies between hospitals: tests, donated blood and organs for transplantation, etc. Everything that needs to be delivered urgently, without traffic jams. A refrigerator with temperature control can be installed into the drone, - and it is ready to go. Or, for example, to deliver tools for an oil production platform at the sea. No need to drive a helicopter or a boat, which uses up a lot of fuel.
At the exhibition, we talked with manufacturers of small drones of 1.5-2 kg, which deliver various goods in Africa, but they perform deliveries without landing – they drop a box with a parachute. Our drone can land and take off vertically, it only needs a small flat area, so it is more convenient, and you can deliver fragile cargo (for example, vaccines).
The electric motor naturally limited the flight range of your bird. Have you decided to make your drone environmentally friendly because you used to work in green energy?
Moving away from the internal combustion engine is a global trend, and we are going to stick to it, even if we had to reduce some technical characteristics. But in the future, we plan to increase the range and speed through, for example, hydrogen technology.
How such a drone is controlled?
Our drones are completely autonomous, we test them in autopilot mode, but there is also a semi-automatic mode, because, just in case, the remote pilot should be able to take control. Ideally, the drone will be as easy to control as using the application on your phone: given coordinates, a route, the user presses one key - and you're done. The drone's "communication" with the ground base (dispatchers, traffic police, etc.) occurs automatically. In addition, we plan to equip it with artificial intelligence to detect and prevent possible collisions.
Here I want more details. The movement of drones should be regulated by some kind of traffic rules in the air. But in Ukraine, such rules have not yet been developed.
There are still no successful projects of cargo drones of a sufficiently large caliber in the world, also because the legislation in this area has not yet been developed. Now, this issue is being actively pursued in the EU and the USA. At the show, we met with companies that provide dedicated airspace to test and certify drones. Security testing is a necessary step for obtaining a certificate. In general, all this is happening right now and is changing very quickly.
Elon Musk has repeatedly spoken negatively about flying machines with artificial intelligence, and the very idea that a small smart robot can at any moment find itself right above you with unknown intentions is really scary. What do you think about the prospects for the development of drones?
This is as inevitable as the emergence and development of mobile phones. In the 90s, these were huge bricks with antennas, terribly expensive to buy and maintain, and inconvenient to use. After 30 years, no one can imagine life without a mobile phone. But if you think about it, it is more dangerous than any drone: all personal data and bank accounts are stored in your smartphone.
I believe that artificial intelligence will make aviation more cost-effective, more reliable and safer. If we look at the statistics of aviation accidents, we will see that the lion's share of them is caused by human errors, and not by technical failures. Of course, a drone can fall into the hands of a criminal, but it is not equipment or weapons that kill, but people.
As for our startup specifically, we do not plan to deal with logistics within cities yet. Our drone will not land in your backyard. It is conceived in such a way as to deliver a parcel to a distant point, to a transshipment point or warehouse, and, if necessary, it will fly around the city along the roundabout.