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Zelator-28 drone
Alexey Medvedev’s Zelator-28 drone was among the big winners in the Airbus Cargo Drone Challenge. (Credit: Local Motors)

Amazon isn’t the only big-name company that’s developing a new kind of drone for cargo delivery: Europe’s Airbus Group is moving ahead with Local Motors on a partnership that takes a decidedly different tack.

The two companies have been crowdsourcing a drone design that parallels what Amazon and lots of other commercial ventures have been working on: an unmanned aircraft system that weighs no more than 55 pounds when fully loaded, and is capable of vertical takeoff and landing as well as fixed-wing forward flight.

The Airbus cargo drone could deliver an 11-pound (5-kilogram) payload to destinations within at least 37 miles (60 kilometers), and a 7-pound (3-kilogram) payload to 62 miles (100 kilometers). Top cruising speed? At least 50 mph.

That compares with Amazon’s plan to deliver packages weighing up to 5 pounds in 30 minutes or less. The drones would roam to destinations within in a radius of 10 miles or more, traveling at cruising speeds of 40 to 50 mph.


 
While Amazon has been relatively hush-hush about its drone development and test program, Airbus and Local Motors have adopted a strategy that’s known as co-creation.

This summer, they conducted an Airbus Cargo Drone Challenge that attracted 425 design entries. The top-rated designs won prizes ranging up to $50,000 in July, and some of the features may well be incorporated into the look of Airbus’ future fliers.

Today, Airbus and Local Motors said they’re moving on to “Phase II” of the partnership, which focuses on the development of the Airbus Drone Services Platform. ADSP will be a digital distribution platform for drone-based apps and services, Airbus Group said in a news release issued from the InterDrone 2016 conference in Las Vegas.

“Phase I of our partnership demonstrated to Airbus the power of community-based creation and open innovation,” said John B. Rogers Jr., Local Motors’ CEO and co-founder. “Phase II of our work together will now demonstrate Airbus’ commitment to the community. The results will be nothing short of game changing.”

Ideas for the ADSP will be solicited during this week’s InterDrone conference and at the HackMIT hackathon, scheduled later this month at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Local Motors specializes in co-creation design projects, such as the 3-D-printed, self-driving Olli minibus that’s currently being tested in pilot programs. The Phoenix-based company is also working on a range of designs for 3-D-printed cars.

In January, Local Motors became the first recipient of investment money from a $150 million fund backed by Airbus Ventures, the aerospace giant’s Silicon Valley spin-off.

At the time, Airbus Ventures’ Tim Dombrowski said the fund would take advantage of opportunities to “accelerate innovation in near ground, air and space flight.” Now it’s clear that Airbus, like Amazon, sees delivery drones as a prime air opportunity.

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