Swift Engineering's Swift020 flying over Kobe, Japan. Photo courtesy of Swift
The autonomous Swift020 vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) drone made its inaugural flight under robotic control earlier this month.
The partnership between California-based Swift Engineering and Kobe, Japan-based Kobe Institute of Computing — Swift-Xi — aims to develop a VTOL unmanned aerial system (UAS) that transitions to fixed-wing forward flight without additional equipment. It is powered by Swift's X-Blade Technology, which the company says can be scaled to larger configuration platforms.
Swift020 is designed to service various markets, including linear infrastructure, oil and gas, maritime, emergency services, delivery, agriculture, scientific research, surveillance and security. The drone can fly for two hours on electric power and has a 1 kg payload capacity.
The demonstration flight took place in Kobe, Japan, before government officials and media.
“We are proud and honored to be a trailblazer in the next industrial revolution of autonomy and robotics," said Rick Heise, president and chief strategy officer of Swift Engineering. "The vision of innovation embraced by the Hyogo Prefecture and the city of Kobe will impact worldwide urban aviation."
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to release drone legislation, including provisions for beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) operations, by the end of the year. Under current regulations operators must apply for permission to fly UAS beyond line of sight and then only over short distances.
The current rules hinder many of Japan's UAS-related business operations. Delivery services, search and rescue, and infrastructure inspections are just some of the many applications for which Japanese companies are looking to use the technology. The nation is hoping to integrate UAS into its airspace and allow unhindered beyond-line-of-sight flight in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.