The DroneShip Project – Unmanned Cargo Airship

The objective of the project is to develop an innovative autonomous zero-emission aerial transportation technology – an unmanned cargo airship. The technology’s working name is the DroneShip which represents the blend of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) commonly referred to as Drones and lighter-than-air aircraft commonly referred to as Blimps or Airships.

This technology has tremendous business potential and will improve the efficiency and economy of short-, medium- and long-haul cargo transportation, addressing climate change problems at the same time.

In 2019 Win Global engaged the University of Toronto School of Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) in a project to confirm the feasibility and scientific and technological possibility of developing an autonomous zero-emission cargo aerial vehicle. UTIAS confirmed in a report that it is indeed possible to develop such a technology and developed a conceptual design of the DroneShip (TRL 2).

In 2023 Win Global secured Canadian government funding to work on the design of the sclae prototype. The work is set to be completed by July 2024 and the test flight is tentatively scheduled for fall of 2024.

Problem Statement

At present, the transportation industry has the following issues and inefficiencies:

  1. Lack of international transportation options – either slow and cheap ocean shipping or fast and expensive air shipping.
  2. Dependency on fossil fuel price and availability – all means of transport except live animals are powered by fossil fuel.
  3. Dependency on infrastructure (ports, airports, truck loading docks, etc.).
  4. Congestions as the number of means of transportation grow to meet global demand
  5. Delays as the growing number of means of transportation face the limits of infrastructure, which doesn’t grow at the same pace.
  6. Rising cost to the consumer as a result of all above.
  7. Need to store the products. The product at the warehouse adds cost to the goods and transportation and does not create value.
  8. Inefficient distribution. The distribution centers are not always aligned with trade routes, and, as a result, the product is shipped in the same direction it has been shipped to the distribution center in the first place.
  9. Reliance on human beings to operate the means of transportation and the infrastructure. Thus, there is always the possibility of human error or negligence.
  10. Complexity and the high cost of design and manufacturing of the means of transportation.
  11. High maintenance cost of infrastructure and means transportation.
  12. Greenhouse gas emissions and the impact on climate change (28% of GHGs are emitted by the transportation industry, according to the US Department of Energy and Stats Canada data).

The following trends will agitate the above-listed problems in the medium to long term.

  1. Depletion of fossil fuels and rising fuel prices as a result.
  2. Global population growth and global consumer demand growth (including demand for consumer goods and travel).
  3. Long-term growth trends in global cargo and passenger transportation demand which will face the infrastructure barrier.

The following information illustrates the untapped market potential, which may be completely absorbed by the proposed technology (the blue ocean).

  1. Only 5%-9% of the business establishments trade goods internationally (OECD Data reported by Export Development Canada). 91%-95% of all businesses could trade and ship their goods internationally if the trading is economically viable and shipping is predictable from price and timeline perspectives.
  2. Only 10%-15% of the global population travels internationally, IATA and the World Tourism Organization. 85%-90% of the global population could travel if the ticket price is affordable.
  3. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the internal trade and travel in the large countries by area (e.g. USA, Canada, Russia, China, Australia, Brazil) would also grow had there been a commercially viable transportation option.

Resolution Statement & Technology Description of Cargo Airship

The proposed resolution to the above problems is an infrastructure-independent unmanned aerial vehicle (cargo in the short-terms and passenger in the long-term) with vertical take-off achieved through buoyancy (DroneShip is a working name, subject to change). The technology both addresses the present-day transportation system’s inefficiencies and opens up a brand new untapped market of trade and travel for those who could not afford it in the past.

The key DroneShip characteristics include:

  • Unmanned Operation. The cargo airship must be able to take off at the point of origin and land at the point of destination based on GPS coordinates set by the operator remotely.
  • Vertical take-off achieved through buoyancy (helium or similar gas).
  • Rotating engines to ensure the stability of the aerial vehicle, especially during loading and unloading.
  • Zero-emission. Each DroneShip will carry the electric battery charged fully or partially by the solar panels also carried by each UAV.
  • The first model will be able to carry at least one fully loaded 20 ft. ocean container (or equivalent payload of 25,000 kg) at least 1,000 km without recharge above the altitude of the clouds (exact altitude will be determined). The weight of the empty container is 2,300 kg.
  • Wind, temperature and humidity sensors and AI algorithm to adjust the route and altitude automatically within air corridor, and machine learning technology to “teach” all UAVs on the network how to respond to certain environmental conditions combination. Licencing this AI algorithm and selling weather data may be an additional source of revenue.
  • Collision prevention sensors & AI.
  • Emergency landing AI technology which lands the DroneShip on the inhabitable surface in case of emergency or extreme weather conditions.
  • Loading and unloading will be done by lifting the container or the cargo platform to and from the bottom of the aircraft. At least two anchors could fix the aircraft during loading and unloading. Grounded anchors may be the only infrastructure required for DroneShips.

Target Markets & Applications of the Droneship

  1. Large multinational corporations with complex manufacturing, supply and distribution chains, e.g. Apple, Ikea, Toyota.
  2. Large retail corporations, e.g. Walmart, Amazon, Loblaws.
  3. Container, ocean shipping lines, trucking companies, cargo airlines, passenger airlines, and bus companies, e.g. Cosco, Maersk.
  4. Small to Medium-Sized businesses for less-than-container-loads shipping.
  5. Freight forwarding & logistics firms, e.g. Kuehne + Nagel.
  6. Postal services.
  7. Construction & engineering firms for construction materials delivery and demolished materials removal.
  8. Special applications:
    1. Oversized cargo delivery (in this case, several DroneShips may be involved)
    2. Delivery to remote no-infrastructure sites, e.g. remote mining operations, remote towns in the North, South or mountains
    3. Agri-food cargo, including live animals and perishable or time-sensitive items
    4. Hazardous or radioactive cargo shipping
    5. Firefighting operations
    6. Disaster relief
    7. Harvesting
    8. Fields spraying (pest control)
  9. Travel Groups, e.g. Thomas Cook
  10. Corporate Travel sector customers
  11. Individual Tourists & travellers (same concept as private jets)

3-Minute Pitch

Conceptual Design of Cargo Airship

The image of the conceptual design is available upon request.

Interested in a Project?

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