Saturday, August 9, 2014

Intermodal Freight Using a VTOL Drone to Transport Shipping Containers as Opposed to Road Haulage?

Can Thunderbird 2 Be Here At Last?
Shipping News Feature

UK – WORLDWIDE – We, have it must be said, looked a little doubtfully at some of the claims made for drone technology as a suitable mode of transport for ferrying freight around. Now a UK based company is seeking investment for a project to take drone technology to the next level with the development of a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft designed specifically for use in intermodal freight transportation. Whereas the smaller drones could easily fall foul of a youth with a catapult or hunter with a rifle, not these craft, as Kent based 4X4 Aviation has gone a whole step further by designing an unmanned aircraft big enough to move a shipping container as a way to compete with the road haulage industry.

A video explaining the plan is viewable on the company website with a fuller explanation of the proposed technology on YouTube, and the aircraft, named the Versatile Vehicle (VV) Plane, uses intelligent software together with Gyroscopic and Acceleration sensors, and microcontrollers enabling the drone to position itself precisely over its freight in all weather conditions. It is designed to land on top of the freight container, connect to it and form part of the aircrafts fuselage allowing the drone to take-off and move directly to its destination.

Obviously most of this is at the concept stage, 4X4 Aviation was only registered last November, but, according to the company, a VV Plane can be a drone with a small payload (7-10 Kgs) or scaled up for an aircraft specially designed to carry full sized intermodal freight containers (around 30 tonnes), flying at up to 173 knots. The company’s goal is to create a hybrid aircraft, which will replace traditional freight transportation with a route-less and more cost effective alternative.

Although the technology is currently used mainly for military and defence purposes, 4X4 Aviation expects drones to be available to the commercial and professional market as the industry develops in a few years. The solution the company says it has developed is an aircraft that travels through the air in a similar fashion to a conventional aeroplane, but has VTOL capability, thereby negating the necessity for large runways, a system used with some success historically.

The real revolution is the propulsion system, a hybrid utilising a combustion engine to power a generator, which stores its energy in batteries, which in turn powers electric turbines. The VV Plane’s ability to reach destinations within otherwise inaccessible areas, combined with its more eco-friendly engine, is the reason the makers say it can compete with road freight especially in developing countries struggling to meet the demands of modern transport infrastructure, an argument used, with limited success, for lighter than air craft previously.

4x4 already claims to have the backing of one stakeholder from the world of logistics, if and when a full scale model of the craft in question is made available for testing, the project will engender a whole new level of interest.