RWTH TEAM MAKES PARCEL DELIVERY BY AIR TANGIBLE
The start-up Urban Ray aims to push the delivery of goods into the third dimension, i.e. lower airspace. To this end, the team developed a prototype of its autonomous parcel drone ("Ray") and corresponding ground station ("Hub") during the Innovation Sprint.
After completing the theoretical design of the system in early 2021, the next step was to provide proof-of-concept of the technologies. One year later, Urban Ray has taken a major step towards this goal. With the help of the Innovation Sprint, the young team consisting of Cem Uyanik, Henry Schmidt and Fabian Binz was able to significantly advance the development and construction of the prototype. In May 2022, shortly after the conclusion of the Innovation Sprint, Urban Ray GmbH was officially founded.
FROM STUDENT COMPETITION TO PROTOTYPE
The fact that the team has set up a start-up around a technology with the potential to substantially transform logistics and delivery networks is the result of the innovative spirit and entrepreneurial mindset of the former RWTH students. The idea for the "Urban Ray" originated in the NASA/DLR Design Challenge, a prestigious student competition focusing on aviation, logistics and urbanization. In the 2020 Design Challenge, the student teams were asked to develop ideas for autonomously and reliably operating aviation systems for the delivery of goods in urban areas. Despite an entirely remote development phase due to the pandemic, the team from RWTH Aachen presented the most convincing concept. Even more important than the prize for 1st place – a trip to the US including a visit to NASA – were the insights into the potential of such a concept, which encouraged the team to pursue the implementation of the prize-winning idea in a business context.
Motivated by the encouragement of the DLR experts, the team began to think about how to realize the concept. On the one hand, the ensuing search for funding and pilot projects highlighted the great interest in the technology; on the other hand it also revealed obstacles in the implementation process.
"As a young team with little more than a concept for such a complex technology, we experienced difficulties obtaining capital and attracting potential customers. There was a lack of trust in the feasibility of our idea," Cem recalls. "Prospective customers and investors wanted to see the actual product. The Innovation Sprint gave us the opportunity to meet this demand and develop a first prototype of our technology," adds Fabian.
FROM PROTOTYPE TO MARKET LAUNCH
With the help of the Innovation Sprint, the team was able to procure all the tools and equipment needed for prototyping, from screwdrivers to electronic components, powerful workstations and 3D printers.
"During the Innovation Sprint, we were able to complete the development and design of the drone in all its components. These include, for example, high-thrust rotors, noise-reducing ducts, high-performance battery packs, and a flight sensor and software platform" explains Henry.
In addition, the team considerably advanced the design of the ground station.
Based on the technological progress made during the Innovation Sprint and the refinement of the business model in the Incubation Program, the founding team was able to successfully apply for the EXIST Business Start-up Grant, which will now be used to automate the drone and certify its operation on several test routes. The focus is on the medical sector and the transport of time-critical goods such as laboratory samples or medicines. The start-up is also planning to expand its team in the second half of the year. The first goods are scheduled to be delivered by "Urban Ray" in pilot services as early as the beginning of 2023.