China-based DJI, the world’s largest drone producer, has just received approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to bring its first-ever delivery drone, FlyCart 30, to North America. The drone, first unveiled in China in August 2023, supports two modes of delivery: a cargo box and a winch crane system. It could be a game-changer.
One of the many impressive features of Flycart is its payload capacity – 30 kgs (or 66 lbs.) with its two self-heating batteries aboard, but 40 kgs (or 88 lbs.) with just one battery in use. This is no mere retail store or food delivery drone. Flycart is a small cargo drone that can facilitate shipments of spare parts and other heavy mechanical supplies critical for overcoming supply chain bottlenecks and preserving the integrity – and reducing the costs – of manufacturing.
A second critical feature of FlyCart is its dual delivery feature. The drone can allow for on-site landing and off-loading of its cargo – in the space of just three minutes – but can also hover in place and lower its cargo by a cable, as needed. FlyCart also includes DJI’s patented anti-swaying technology that stabilizes the drone during difficult weather conditions, especially in heavy winds. And with DJI’s O3 video transmission system, remote pilots can direct the aircraft beyond their visual line of sight (BVLOS) up to a distance of 20 kms.
FlyCart comes along just as the FAA is beginning to grant additional waivers to US-based drone companies for remotely piloted and autonomous BVLOS operations. Over the summer, Zipline, UPS Flight Forward and two other companies saw their BVLOS applications approved, removing a regulatory roadblock that has prevented retail drone deliveries from achieving scale and fulfilling their potential.
For DJI the introduction of FlyCart signals the company’s determination to expand beyond the commercial niches it already dominates to capture the ever growing retail delivery market, but with the additional twist of emphasizing business-to-business deliveries, as well as public safety missions, medical supply shipments and humanitarian relief missions. Because of its emphasis on heavier cargo – compared to consumer drone companies with payloads of just 5-10 pounds – Flycart may well enjoy a competitive edge, at least initially.
DJI has tested its drones in the US before – most notably in North Carolina with great fanfare back in 2019. But Flycart marks a more serious and aggressive push by DJI to expand into the US market at a time when some public officials are seeking to limit the company’s commercial influence in favor of American suppliers.
How much will Flycart cost? The starting price was set at $17,000 in China two months ago. The standard package includes not just the aircraft but also DJI’s RC Plus remote controller, two Intelligent Flight Batteries, and a charging hub and cables. DJI also plans to introduce a new air transportation cloud platform, dubbed “DJI Transport,” to facilitate flight planning and multi-machine management.