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Swoop Aero’s drones hit one million items shipped as company raises for expansion – TechCrunch

Swoop Aero’s drones hit one million items shipped as company raises for expansion – TechCrunch

Swoop Aero's drones hit one million items shipped as company raises for expansion – TechCrunch

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Where delivery trucks and full-size cargo planes don’t make much sense, drones are proliferating – they may never deliver your burrito, but could soon be indispensable for transporting medicine and emergency supplies. . Australian drone logistics company Swoop Aero is celebrating new milestones and funding as it plans to expand into more markets.

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Swoop has been transporting and delivering medical supplies – medicines as well as items such as laboratory samples – to southern Malawi, DR Congo and other locations for the past three years, and recently delivered its millionth item and performed its 20,000th flight.

This success led USAID to award Swoop $1.5 million, which will in part fuel the company’s expansion into the rest of the country. That’s on top of a just-announced $10 million addition — from latecomer Levitate Capital — to its $16 million Series B from earlier this year.

CEO Eric Peck told TechCrunch the company was formed when he, a former Air Force officer, met his co-founder, a roboticist, and they both wondered if autonomous planes could really find a role in today’s complex logistics world. Obviously the answer was yes, but the segment they found convenient was not the urban segment.

“The misconception is that we’re going to replace every truck and car – what it’s really about is integrating air transport into the logistics infrastructure that currently exists,” Peck said. For a typical delivery provider serving a large area, “if we do their 30 hardest-to-reach places, we can cut the road miles they have to travel in half.”

They ended up designing and building their own aircraft from the ground up: a mid-size electric drone that can fly up to 100 miles with a 10-pound payload, land vertically, and uses parts so easily interchangeable it can be converted from cargo to science or lifeboat in minutes. They are also all powered by off-grid energy: solar energy and whatever can be installed in a given location.

Exploded view of a Swoop drone showing its modular parts.

Swoop’s strategy is to establish a ground presence and bring a number of aircraft online to meet a very specific need. “If you’re the minister of a country, be it Austria or Malawi, you say ‘we want to be able to do 300 high priority deliveries a month’. Our objective is to reach a level of cost, but also to multiply by 10 the level of service provided. Like a hospital that gets a pickup once a month, we would do it daily. It can have a huge impact,” Peck said.

Once they are in regular operation, the company can expand the fleet and diversify its customers and service. It turns out that there is a strong latent demand for things like power line inspection, mapping and monitoring, wildfire tracking, and disaster response. Often times, something you need to charter a helicopter flight for can usually be done for a tiny fraction of the price by a drone.

The company has learned as it has grown: the aircraft itself has gone through five generations watching them in use and receiving feedback from customers. And it’s not at all obvious exactly how to build a state-of-the-art public-private partnership drone subsidiary, powered by renewable energy, in any country, let alone a dozen countries. between them around the world.

Swoop Aero's drones hit one million items shipped as company raises for expansion – TechCrunch

Picture credits: Aero Swoop

“There is a lot of learning involved in how you actually deploy a drone logistics point. The capital was focused on R&D, learning about large-scale deployment, manufacturing the aircraft at scale,” Peck explained.

They arrived at an 80/20 split between operating their own networks and leasing the plane to other operators. They learned to cut costs where needed – landing zones are “usually a big QR code on the ground held down with sandbags” and being able to reload and reuse planes quickly and cheaply has been the key, hence the modular construction.

The company is now working with various partners, private and governmental, to develop. Peck said they plan to raise a new round of $40 million to build ten new networks, including in the tightly regulated United States. The plan will be to provide the technology to existing players (think UPS and companies specializing in medical transport, etc.), but it is clear that the needs of countries around the world are fundamentally similar.

Certainly, a few states would welcome help with wildfire monitoring and infrastructure inspection. Hell, with some great whites back in New England, they might want to take advantage of Swoop’s shark patrol services.

Tech

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