Anytime, Any Mile?  Mitsubishi Prepares to Launch An Ambitious “Next Generation” Drone Logistics System

For decades, Mitsubishi has been at the forefront of creating emissions reducing technologies, electric cars and hybrid vehicles designed to preserve and sustain the natural environment.  Its latest offering, the Outlander PHEV, is pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with hybrids.

But the multi-billion dollar Japanese technology company isn’t finished. Buoyed by its growing success, Mitsubishi plans to make a fresh mark with another kind of electric vehicle:  The drone.

The company isn’t planning to make them – there are far too many drone manufacturers out there already, including a bevy of new Japanese companies struggling for a share of the burgeoning global market still dominated by China.

No, Mitsubishi has set its sights far higher:  The company’s hoping to create a multi-leveled drone logistics hub that can coordinate the planning and monitoring of  drone deliveries worldwide – the nucleus, perhaps, of a self-monitoring UAV air traffic management system.

Dubbed “Any Mile,” the new logistics management system is a collaborative effort of several drone companies at various stages of development.  The group includes the fledgling American cargo drone manufacturer, Elroy Air, a German firm, EVA, Aerial Loop, a seasoned drone veteran, and a smattering of small highly innovative start-ups, including MightyFly (one of the rare woman-owned drone companies) and Toofoon.

At one level, Any Mile is expected to function as an “open marketplace.”  Over time, cargo shippers, UAV manufacturers, drone operators, and ancillary service providers anywhere in the world will be able to tap into a single digital platform, allowing them to easily schedule and manage cargo deliveries via drones.  With Any Mile, they could maintain live situational awareness of their shipments, drone fleets, and infrastructure services.  They would also be able to perform routine operational tasks, such as generating customer invoices and booking services for drone refueling, directly from AnyMile.

In theory, Any Mile might enable the growing number of drone businesses entering the global market to avoid redundancy and unnecessary scheduling conflicts – which would save time, improve efficiency and reduce operational costs  And improved coordination and management would likely reduce the risk of mid-air collisions, and potentially costly litigations.

It all sounds good – on paper.  But it’s not clear what actual advantage individual members of the Any Mile network might actually gain from its use, while the increased transparency about their operations might well hinder their competitiveness.  Some of Mitsubishi’s collaborators, including AerialLoop, already boast an extensive  logistics network for its cargo drone deliveries pathways in North and South America.  In fact, the company already claims to be making 300 cargo drone deliveries a week.  El Roy Air, by contrast, is still seeking to bring its advanced cargo drone prototype, the Chaparral, to full-scale commercialization, which the company says could take another year, maybe two.  It’s not clear what different drone companies in the Any Mile network stand to gain – for the potential price of admission.

Mitsubishi is clearly banking on the explosion of the drone logistics and transportation market anticipated in a plethora of recent market research reports.   For example, projects that drone use in the transportation, logistics and supply chain industries will grow by a CAGR of 55% by 2030 – outpacing the rate of growth in other sectors by a substantial margin.  More drones of various sizes and specs – some fixed wing, some EVTOL, some quadcopters, capable of flying at different speeds, altitudes, and distances, with varying BVLOS capabilities and payloads — mean more headaches for everyone.  Preventing airspace chaos and destruction is a must.

The introduction of Any Mile also parallels the development of new flight regulations within the European Union that are laying the groundwork for an unmanned air traffic management system that will meld the operations of conventional piloted aircraft and drones.  Could Any Mile provide some kind of private sector counterpart?  Perhaps.  But nearly all of Mitsubishi’s current collaborators seem better positioned for operations in Asia or Latin America.  With any luck, the company might make its real mark in these two fast-rising drone markets, offering the rudiments of a self-regulating private sector air traffic management system where no governing regulatory authority – other than the FAA  – currently exists.

Whatever its future trajectory – with so much in flux in Drone World it’s hard to predict – Mitsubishi’s ambitious Any Mile project clearly reflects the drone industry’s preoccupation with “scalability” – especially for cargo drones, which seem to promise higher revenues and lower costs relative to more conventional cargo shipment methods.  Mitsubishi’s sudden and dramatic emergence on the scene also points to the rising status of Japan as a major drone player not only in Asia (where it ranks #2 after China) but potentially, worldwide.

Make no mistake:  Mitsubishi’s far-flung hopes for Any Mile may not come to full fruition, but this is no mere pipedream.  How well has the company prepared for its launch?  We’ll know soon.  Any Mile’s public launch is scheduled for March 31, 2023.  That’s just around the corner.

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