Throughout the last month, Kawasaki Heavy Industries has conducted, and now successfully completed, proof-of-concept (PoC) testing for unmanned cargo transport via its K-RACER-X1 unmanned vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft and delivery robot. PoC testing was purposefully conducted to solve societal issues such as labor shortages in the logistics industry.

In the demonstration that can be viewed below, a delivery robot loaded with luggage automatically boarded an unmanned VTOL aircraft, automatically flew with the delivery robot loaded, and after landing, the delivery robot automatically left and delivered the luggage. This confirmed the completely unmanned transportation of cargo in the future without human intervention.

In its Group Vision 2030, which describes the company’s future vision for 2030, Kawasaki specified three areas where it will focus its efforts: “A Safe and Secure Remotely-Connected Society,” “Near-Future Mobility” and “Energy and Environmental Solutions.” In the area of “Near-Future Mobility,” the company has been pursuing development of unmanned VTOLs, delivery robots and so on.

Kawasaki’s latest unmanned VTOL adopts improvements to an aircraft previously flight-tested in 2020. It is able to transport a 100-kilogram payload and equipped with a delivery robot loading and unloading mechanism. For its power unit, the aircraft has a Ninja H2R motorcycle supercharged engine built by Kawasaki Motors, Ltd. The delivery robot used together with the unmanned VTOL is based on a delivery robot designed to achieve smooth, stable operations even on rough and bumpy roads, developed utilizing Kawasaki’s knowledge in robotics and technologies behind the off-road capabilities of its motorcycles and side-by-sides. This delivery robot was modified to enable boarding onto an unmanned VTOL.

PoC testing simulated a continuous, interlinked sequence of unmanned delivery operations in which the delivery robot was loaded with cargo and automatically boarded the unmanned VTOL, followed by automated flight with the delivery robot onboard, and then landing, automatic delivery robot disembarkation and delivery of the cargo to the final destination. Testing was carried out with the goal of eventually taking humans out of the loop of delivery operations.

Overview of PoC testing. Credit // Kawasaki

Kawasaki’s unmanned VTOL is scheduled to be used in the Unmanned VTOL Cargo Transport Platform Development Project being carried out on commission from Ina City, Nagano Prefecture.

Why it’s important: Responding to labor shortages in the logistics industry and other challenges faced by society, Kawasaki will make use of results and information gained from its latest PoC testing to realize a rapid cargo transport system that is not affected by road-traffic conditions or topographic features.

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