Drones

Manta ray-inspired drone wins delivery competition in Africa

Manta ray-inspired drone wins ...
The Manta Ray drone takes to Rwandan skies
The Manta Ray drone takes to Rwandan skies
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The Manta Ray is 1.9 meters long (6.2 ft), has a 3.5-m wingspan (11.5 ft), weighs 25 kg (55 lb), and can carry an additional 10 kg (22 lb) of cargo in an integrated 30-liter compartment
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The Manta Ray is 1.9 meters long (6.2 ft), has a 3.5-m wingspan (11.5 ft), weighs 25 kg (55 lb), and can carry an additional 10 kg (22 lb) of cargo in an integrated 30-liter compartment
The Manta Ray was the largest drone in the contest
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The Manta Ray was the largest drone in the contest
The Manta Ray drone takes to Rwandan skies
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The Manta Ray drone takes to Rwandan skies
View gallery - 3 images

Although they're relatively large, manta rays move easily through the water, thanks to their sleek shape. Well, that form has been copied in the aptly-named Manta Ray aerial delivery drone, which recently won an international competition.

Designed by German startup Phoenix-Wings, the Manta Ray is an electric VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) drone. This means that it can take off and land like a helicopter, allowing it to access areas that lack open spaces, but then switch to faster, more efficient fixed-wing flight while cruising.

It's 1.9 meters long (6.2 ft), has a 3.5-m wingspan (11.5 ft), weighs 25 kg (55 lb), and can carry an additional 10 kg (22 lb) of cargo in an integrated 30-liter compartment. Flying either autonomously or by BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight) remote control, it cruises at 80 to 100 km/h (62 mph), and – depending on the payload and other variables – offers a typical delivery range of 40 to 120 km (75 miles).

In February, a Phoenix-Wings team took the drone to Rwanda, where it took part in the international Lake Kivu Challenge. Out of more than 70 groups from around the world that applied to participate in the drone-delivery contest, 10 were chosen to compete, and the results of the three main competitions that made up the event were announced this week.

The Manta Ray was the largest drone in the contest
The Manta Ray was the largest drone in the contest

Along with receiving the Innovation Award for its drone's unique design, the Phoenix-Wings team also took first place in the Sample Collection competition. This involved flying 20 km (12 miles) over open water to pick up packages from specific locations on an island in the lake, then delivering them to a base back on the shore. Among the factors contributing to the win was the fact that the Manta Ray was able to lift a heavier payload than any of the other aircraft.

German company Wingcopter won the Emergency Delivery competition, while Korea's Hojung Solutions won the Find and Access competition. The Challenge was part of the African Drone Forum, which is a conference aimed at exploring the use of drones in civil applications on the continent.

For another example of a manta ray-inspired drone, check out the ducted-fan-powered prototype that was built by engineers at the University of Sheffield.

Sources: Phoenix-Wings, African Drone Forum

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Interesting that it seems quite suited for navigation under water as well. An air/sea capable incarnation would raise the bar into a higher order of magnitude.