Ship-to-Shore delivery is a huge business – it’s necessity for shipping logistics. Singapore drone company F-Drone wants to reinvent the process to reduce the time, costs, and carbon emissions by up to 80% – with their unique delivery drone. DRONELIFE interviewed F-Drone co-founder Nicolas Ang to find out more.
In the hot Singapore start-up market, F-Drone, founded in 2019, has come a long way in a short time. “We have a vision to enable large-scale and on-demand aerial deliveries for the industrial world,” says Ang. “Specifically, we are developing a drone that can deliver 100kg over 100km to ships and offshore platforms.”
“We plan to complete the development of such a drone by the end of 2021. Right now, we have built our 3rd prototype, which we’ve named as Hyperlaunch, capable of delivering 5kg over 50km,” says Ang. “Since December 2019, we have been using an off-the-shelf drone to conduct test deliveries to vessels. In April 2020, we became the first company in Singapore to obtain an authorisation for the aviation authorities to conduct Beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) drone deliveries.”
Building a Solution to Solve a Billion Dollar Problem
DRONELIFE asked Ang how the idea came about – and the answer is what every investor wants to hear. F-Drones came into being as a direct response to an expensive pain point in a large market. “Yeshwanth and I met through Entrepeneur First, which is a talent investor program that helps to build deep technology startups,” Ang explained. “Both of us were very excited about the drone sector, and in particular, the possibility of helping businesses move supplies across remote locations.”
Ang is a veteran of the Singapore government as part of Singapore’s Office for Space Technology and Industry, working with foreign investors in a variety of sectors. “I have an insatiable appetite for new things, especially if they defy gravity. For instance, I was previously involved in Airbus’s Spaceplane collaboration with Singapore, and I first spoke with SpaceX about a decade ago,” says Ang. Reddy is a drone industry veteran who started India’s first drone company. In Singapore, the two found the perfect opportunity to test out a solution to a problem Ang was deeply acquainted with.
While posted in China and Australia for 6 years, Ang worked with the aerospace, energy, marine and offshore and mining sectors – all key sectors that F-Drones works with now. “We were surprised to find a really painful problem in the marine and offshore sector, which is reliant on boats and helicopters to send supplies to ships and offshore platforms. They are really expensive, slow and carbon intensive,” says Ang.
It’s a niche market that F-Drone estimates at over a billion dollars – and an application where the benefits outweigh the risks of new technology. Large shipping enterprises have already engaged with the company: customers and partners include Eastern Pacific Shipping (EPS), GAC group, Schulte Group and Hafnia.
The F-Drone solution won’t eliminate existing vendors – but it makes the entire process more efficient, and could fundamentally change the workflow of the industry. “We don’t think we are replacing anyone,” says Ang. “Instead, we are offering an alternative for smaller deliveries which today have to be consolidated with bigger supply trips… For instance, a set of documents may have to wait a few hours to tag along the next boat that’s going to the vessel, or it would have to get a whole boat by itself.”
Singapore Drone Companies: an Ideal Sandbox
Ang says that the Singapore government has been supportive of using commercial drones for a variety of applications – and while he says that the country is relatively new in the drone sector, he easily lists a number of other drone companies. In addition, says Ang, Singapore’s unique geography and position as a global center of export make it the perfect testing ground for many commercial applications. “Specific to our focus area, I’ve not aware if anywhere else in the world has a maritime sandbox for drone activities,” says Ang. “In Singapore, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore and Maritime Port Authority conceptualized a Maritime Drone Estate, a sandbox where we first started our first trials. As one of the world’s busiest ports, Singapore a perfect testbed and market for us.”
“Besides the maritime opportunities, Singapore’s unique and challenging environment also mean that any drone solution that could work here, would also have a good likelihood of succeeding elsewhere. Think about a highly urbanized city, with 50 smaller islands and 5 airfields squeezed into 700 sqm.”
“This year,” Ang explains, “the Association of Aerospace Industries (Singapore) (“AAIS”) led setup of the Singapore Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Community, to represent and serve the interests of the emerging UAS industry. We believe this is a great step in bringing together the ecosystem to help each other, not just commercially but also in the development of standards and related policies.”
“What’s even more cool is AAIS operates an indoor flying development testbed!” says Ang.
For F-Drone, the Singapore environment has meant that the process from startup to first demo flight has been amazingly fast. “For interested parties that want to see in-person our first demo flight in Singapore later this year, drop us a note,” says Ang.