Innovations & Start-ups: Space Freight, Drones, On-Demand Delivery, and More…

Martijn Graat
Martijn Graat

Trends and innovations in supply chain and logistics: that is what this blog is all bout. Therefore I periodically bring you an overview of the news on logistics start-ups and innovations below. Follow @LogisticsMatter on Twitter to stay updated with the latest news and the best background stories. The previous edition was Innovations & Start-ups: Autonomous Trucking, Robots, AI, and more…. This edition has more news about Space Freight, Drones and Robots, news on autonomous driving, and various startups.

Space Oddity (~ David Bowie)

There’s air freight, ocean freight, road freight, rail freight, and hyperloop freight (in the future). But there is another modality: space freight! Entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are working on rockets to take people and cargo into space. The same goes for large companies like Boeing.

Safely landing the first-stage of the Falcon 9 rocket is at the very heart of SpaceX’s operation as it enables the company to reuse the booster for future flights. This reusability element allows it to save big bucks on mission costs and also makes possible a higher launch frequency.

Elon Musk tweets photo showing true scale of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket

After spending a little less than a week at the space station, Boeing’s new passenger spacecraft, the CST-100 Starliner, returned to Earth this afternoon, landing intact with the help of parachutes and airbags in the New Mexico desert. The successful touchdown brings an end to a crucial test flight for Starliner, one that showcased the vehicle’s ability to launch to space, dock with the station, and then return home safely.

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft returns to Earth, wrapping up critical test mission

Drone Logic (~Daniel Avery)

Exciting news recently: the first cargo drone company has been certified for cross EU drone operations. DRONAMICS Founder Svilen Rangelov was a guest on the Does Logistics Matter? Podcast and talked all about his Black Swan Cargo drone and how it will change how companies approach last mile delivery. Unlike most drone companies, DRONAMICS is focusing on the middle mile, leaving the last mile to delivery vans, and cargo bikes. You can find the episode here.

The license allows them to self-authorise flight operations across EASA countries, including Beyond Visual Line of Sight Operations, allowing the drones to fly autonomously. Commercial operations across EU countries will start from airports in Malta and Italy in the second half of this year.

DRONAMICS is the First Cargo Drone Company Certified for Cross-EU Operations

If we look at self-driving, self-flying, or in another way self-moving objects that can be used to transport freight, there was an interesting news item about the launch of an autonomous ship, that can be used as a home base for a range of other floating and flying drones.

China christened a remarkable new 290-foot (88-m) ship last week – the world’s first semi-autonomous drone carrier. It’ll carry, launch, recover and co-ordinate the actions of more than 50 other autonomous aerial, surface and underwater vehicles.

It’s kitted out with everything it needs to deploy its own boats, subs and aircraft, communicate with them, and run co-ordinated missions, including conducting “task-oriented adaptive networking to achieve three-dimensional views of specific targets,” according to the shipbuilding company. The aerial drones can land back on its deck, and it stands ready to retrieve the boats and subs once they’ve made their rounds.

China launches an autonomous mothership full of autonomous drones

It’s the last-mile delivery drones that are in the news the most. One of the reasons is probably that there are so many. Three initiatives that were recently in the news below. Big companies like Walmart and Unilever are taking flight as well.

Walmart is working together with DroneUp:

By the end of the year, they will have 34 drone delivery hubs in place, with the capacity to deliver one million parcels, which should put about four million consumers within range for drone delivery, the pair estimate.

The drone, which can carry up to 5kg (10lb), will be controlled by certified operators stationed at the hubs, who will manoeuvre them to the consumers’ premises for drop-off. Each delivery will cost $3.99.

Walmart goes up a gear as it readies drone deliveries in six states

Unilever is working together with Flytrex:

Unilever, which is deploying a fleet of Robomart on-demand mobile mini-marts to take its virtual direct-to-consumer (DTC) ice cream storefront, The Ice Cream Shop, on the road (see details below), is also now offering ice cream delivery via drone. The company is partnering with end-to-end drone delivery company Flytrex to make Ice Cream Shop drone deliveries across all of Flytrex’s U.S. locations, including Holly Springs, Fayetteville and Raeford, N.C.; and Granbury, Texas.

Unilever Offers Drone Delivery for Direct-to-consumer Ice Cream Orders

And finally Drone Delivery Canada is transporting medical supplies and other cargo from one Univerity to another:

The DTI program is currently utilising the company’s drone logistics solution to enable a defined two-way delivery flight route, using the Sparrow drone and its DroneSpot takeoff and landing zones, to transport a variety of cargo.

The two sites are about 5 kms apart and a journey by road would take around seven minutes.

Drone Delivery Canada adds university campus flights

Start Me Up (~The Rolling Stones)

Some supply chain and logistics start-ups were in the news as well. Most with positive news, and some with less-positive news. The latter are on-demand delivery companies like Getir and Gorillas, that are both letting go large parts of their workforce.

It continues to be a very rough week for e-commerce companies in Europe. In the latest development, TechCrunch has learned and confirmed that Getir — the $12 billion quick commerce upstart that provides grocery essentials and sundries and promises delivery of them in minutes — is cutting 14% of its staff globally. It’s been estimated that the Turkish company employs some 32,000 people in the nine markets where it operates, which would work out to 4,480 people impacted by the downsizing.

Getir, the $12B instant delivery startup, plans to axe 14% of staff globally and cut aggressive expansion plans

Grocery app Gorillas, which promises to deliver goods in as quickly as 10 minutes, is laying off half of its office staff. In a press release, the company said it was letting go of roughly 300 employees from a “global office workforce” of 600. (This workforce also includes roughly 14,400 staff working in warehouse and as delivery drivers.)

On-demand grocery app Gorillas lays off half its office workforce

The positive start-up news item in short:

In Other News (~ Eric Morier)

Header image: Photo by NASA on Unsplash

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