DB Digital Ventures, the venture capital arm of German train operator Deutsche Bahn, has announced an investment in Skyports, a U.K.-based drone technology startup that is taking the aerial route to transport people and cargo. DB Digital Ventures is a pan-global venture capital firm that invests predominantly in the mobility and logistics space, with a portfolio comprised of startups like what3words, Talixo and Teralytics.
Drone technology is a subset of the vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft segment, which has seen astronomical growth in recent years within the logistics realm, as moving cargo via air can further expedite last-mile delivery in the age of e-commerce.
The possibilities of drone delivery are endless; business models can be fashioned to suit market needs. For instance, drones can be deployed across nuclear markets which can support and sustain localised vendors. A fruit vendor in one part of a town can use drones to deliver fresh products to its customers’ doorsteps in a matter of minutes. In the U.S., hypermarket chains like Walmart can find drone deliveries a promising prospect as about 90% of Americans live within 10 miles of a Walmart store.
Heavy-haul drones can be used to deliver products over longer ranges, helping companies tap into hard-to-access markets – like the Australian hinterlands or landlocked African communities.
Functional across London, Los Angeles and Singapore, Skyports operates end-to-end drones that it states are very safe to fly, are operated by qualified remotely stationed pilots and with full regulatory approval across each of the cities. The startup currently transports medical products including pathology samples, blood and tissue products, and also is into e-commerce deliveries that concern mid- and last-mile deliveries.
Apart from pioneering drone deliveries, Skyports also has a stake in developing landing infrastructure for those drones, helping create a connected infrastructure network that enables seamless deployment of point-to-point drone services.
Last week, Skyports announced that it had raised its Series A financing, with DB Digital Ventures featuring amongst the investors. Along with Deutsche Bahn, airport operator Groupe ADP and venture capital firm Levitate Capital were also a part of the fundraising round.
“The new capital allows us to build teams in multiple locations – we have recently opened offices in Singapore and on the West Coast of the U.S. – and continue to secure prime vertiport locations in markets that we hope will be first movers for urban aerial mobility [UAM],” said Duncan Walker, the founder and CEO of Skyports in his statement. “We are also growing the team within our drone deliveries business where our technology is now market leading and we are focused on commercialisation.”
Walker expected market progress to increase over the next two years, as vehicle manufacturers and government authorities recognize the increasing consumer interest and concentrate on developing better drone aircraft at scale and in certifying them for commercial purposes.
“Our unique relationships with the majority of the leading OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] enables us to support them and be in the right place at the right time. Regulations are opening up for passenger and cargo flights and a number of players, both cities and vehicle manufacturers, are working hard to be first,” commented Walker.
For DB Digital Ventures, Skyports will serve as an opportunity to expand its reach within both mobility and logistics segments, as drones can double up as passenger aircraft if the need arises. “As an environmentally minded provider of mobility services and a leader in electromobility, Deutsche Bahn is the perfect partner for us, a company promoting the use of electric, zero-emissions aircraft,” said Walker.